The Rapidian

Half a year later, struggle for equal protections continues

Today marks the half-year mark since a 5-4 vote in Holland against an anti-discrimination to protect a vulnerable.
Underwriting support from:

Letters from Holland High School students to members of Until Love Is Equal movement:

‎"You come to every city meeting. You are HEROS. Never forget that please. Feel the love. It's real. We love you for what you are doing for us. We see the meetings on the internet. It means everything to me. Don't stop. Please. ____ HHS GSA

‎"Thank you for standing up for this cause & not giving up thorough-out all of the hate you've recently been getting. You're quite amazing for everything you do. So, this is just a letter of love saying you're greatly appreciated and we love you. Love, ____ HHS GSA"

‎"Thank you for Leading rallies and speaking in the council. Ignore the hate mail it's just people who are afraid of what they don't understand. Keep up your great work never give [up] if you are capable of changing this homophobic community so that they won't discremenate [sic] against them do your best and don't listen to these haters. I have few words, but at least I can probably help encourage you to continue. Love, ____ HHS GSA

"Thank you so much for fighting against the system. I am inspired by you! You are doing wonderful things in our community and I want you to know that you aren't alone in the battle for gay rights. My fellow members of Holland High School and I are fighting right alongside you and we will never give up. Keep doing what you do, ____ HHS GSA

"I heard that you have been getting a lot of hate mail. So here's a bit of positive, love mail (: This summer I attended the march to city hall. It was absolutely amazing. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and taken care of. I know that if we keep fighting for what's right it'll come to us. Thank you so much for supporting the LGBT community. You are truly inspirations. Love, ____ HHS GSA"

‎"We came to the march and I joined GSA. I am straight, but that march changed my life. I only want to make a difference now because you showed us that we can do something. Thank you. Us kids love you for that. [Peace] ____ HHS GSA"

‎"You are making a difrence [sic] to me. I am a gay kid and my parents don't know about it. It helps me a lot to know that there is parents who are not giving up on this battle to win rights for me. I appreciate what you are doing for all of us. I [...] the hating and remember us kids. God bless you. With Love, ____ HHS GSA"

 

"Just wanted to say I love what this group is fighting for and doing. Keep up the good work. As MLK Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'" -Lenski Ian Llorens Monteserin

Images from the youth march with Until Love Is Equal

Images from the youth march with Until Love Is Equal /Connie Lynn Pulliam-Redmond

Hundreds of supporters gather in August, 2011 to welcome Pres. Obama to West Michigan

Hundreds of supporters gather in August, 2011 to welcome Pres. Obama to West Michigan /Seth Thompson

Musician and Pastor Lenski Ian Llorens Monteserin wears his support for the movement at a summer performance.

Musician and Pastor Lenski Ian Llorens Monteserin wears his support for the movement at a summer performance. /Michael Cook

A half year ago today, five council members in Holland rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance recommended by the city's Human Relations Commission (HRC), a mayoral-appointed body. Holland City Council itself had requested the ordinance language. The HRC spent a year studying the issue and recommended unanimously: Holland needed this ordinance.

Holland City Council's June 15 no vote preserved employers' and landowners' rights to refuse jobs and housing to those who appear to be gay.

Many in West Michigan reacted with surprise and disappointment. Several other West Michigan municipalities have anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents and workers, including Grand Rapids, which adopted a similar ordinance in 1994. 

In addition, virtually every corporation that does business internationally has extremely progressive benefits and protections packages for LGBT employees and their partners - because other nations' corporations won't do business with them otherwise. Holland and Zeeland are home to a number of the region's most important companies.

But it's not just about the economy.

"West Michigan has this largely undeserved reputation as a conservative or intolerant region, which is especially untrue here in Grand Rapids," said Until Love Is Equal member Kim Crawford. "But people see us as a region, so it's like a black eye for all of us."

American urban studies professor Richard Florida correlates a connection between an area's tolerance and the number of the creative class who live and work there. Grand Rapids, whose lawmakers protect its LGBT residents and workers, has defined itself as an international pioneer in arts and culture, and West Michigan benefits as a whole.

"West Michigan cities are uniquely interconnected," said ArtPeers Board President Erin Wilson, also a member of Until Love Is Equal. "We have this magnificently inter-dependent relationship, and we have to be there for one another."

Among the five Holland lawmakers who voted no, several said this could be a great opportunity for public discussion and examination of the issue, perhaps eventually leading to a public ballot initiative. 

Crawford disagrees.

"This is not some academic experiment," Crawford said. "This is about what lawmakers are elected to do: prevent harm, protect people, move their cities forward. Five lawmakers in Holland failed on all three counts and now we're picking up the pieces."

Wilson said it's unsound, and notably unprecedented, for the majority to vote on the rights of a minority. 

"There's no context for any of this," said Wilson, who moved to Grand Rapids from New York City in 2001. "Sometimes I can't even believe we're having this conversation. And this is right next door: the distance between us is a few songs on the radio and a gallon of gasoline."

But there is reason for hope.

In August, Grand Rapids artists from Until Love Is Equal produced the movement's first PSA video, "Dark Into Light," featuring gorgeous video photography of Holland's trademark beauty by Seth Thompson, with music by Grand Rapids musicians Everyday Pompeii and Ghost Heart.
 
In September, the movement produced a groundbreaking PSA titled "Where Are You?" featuring too many West Michigan community leaders to count. The video was created by Grand Rapids video production company Hybrid Media, with music from the band Paucity and an appearance by Grand Rapids Mayor George K. Heartwell.
 
Throughout October, Until Love Is Equal attempted to provide City Council with what they said they needed to reconsider their vote against discrimination in Holland: justification. The movement's members have compiled videos demonstrating discrimination in the following categories:
 
 
The movement hosted a sold-out October Autumn Gala event in Holland at the Piper Restaurant that featured author Wade Rouse.
In November, Until Love Is Equal hosted the highest-grossing benefit event in the history of Grand Rapids community pub, the Meanwhile. Throughout the month, Until Love Is Equal was featured on National Public Radio (NPR), Michigan Public Radio, Huffington Post, The Advocate and four times in the Grand Rapids Press.
 
In December, Until Love Is Equal began paid advertising through multiple outlets to promote Holland businesses that are welcoming to all customers, from all communities on the radio and online. 
 
One Girl's Treasure (Downtown Grand Rapids) created a presentation in support of Until Love Is Equal as part of the December event the Holly Jolly window display contest - and won!
 
Most recently, the movement's Facebook Group exceeded 3,000 members and saw record numbers of supporters adopt the Twibbon overlay to profile photos, becoming as prevalent as the new buttons and bumper stickers that can be seen on people and vehicles throughout West Michigan.
 
And then... the letters. A group of Holland High School students has sent dozens of handwritten correspondences to members of Until Love Is Equal , some of which we've scanned and transcribed in the sidebar on the right. These messages of hope reaffirmed everything we're doing, and why. 
 
What happens now.
 
Currently we're working with the Holland Sentinel to promote pro-equality Holland businesses during the slow month of January. We're getting quotes to charter a bus for West Michigan residents to use to shop at Holland establishments that are on the list of businesses that endorse our goals. We're in talks with four prominent speakers to present a free lecture in Holland regarding the hope that Holland City Council will revisit this issue. And we're in early stages of planning for early 2012 what may be the largest performance art project in the history of West Michigan.
 
We believe the opinions and beliefs of the five Council members who voted against the anti-discrimination ordinance represent part of the truth. We believe our role is to wean so-called opponents from error with patience and courtesy. We will continue to try to share our pieces of the truth. We are a flawed and amateurish attempt at what M.K. Gandhi referred to as "Satyagraha," as West Michigan blogger Nick Manes referenced in a lovely piece.
 
As we look back in lament of the harm done on June 15, we celebrate the way a region has so naturally coalesced.
 
We believe there is reason for hope.

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