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What’s next for anti-discrimination laws in Holland? Lots...

Last month Holland City Council voted against adding sexual orientation and gender identityto their local anti-discrimination laws. But the fight over gay rights continues in the generally conservative town.


The debate surrounds the City of Holland adopting local laws. These laws would protect people from getting fired or kicked out of their houses because they are gay or transgender. Federal and state laws protect people from discrimination – but not based on a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The debate is not technically about the morality of homosexuality. But in a community known for having a church on almost every corner – for many people in Holland that is definitely part of the conversation.

Holland resident Bob Ashby was 1 of dozens who spoke during a public hearing last fall.  

“If people want to practice homosexuality in privacy go ahead and do it, I don’t care. But don’t force my family and my grandchildren to acknowledge something’s normal which is not.”

Several business-owners say they don’t want to hire someone who is gay or transgender; much the same as they wouldn’t want to hire someone 'covered with tattoos.'

“The fact of the matter is, as a land-owner and a business owner, you also have rights,” Holland landlord Polly Cohen said, “I have the right to say, I don’t want a smoker living in my duplex.”

There’s Reverend Bill Freeman, the guy who petitioned city council to consider the changes more than a year ago.

Now he’ll petition city council to reconsider their vote. The council voted 5 to 4 against the change so Freeman plans to go to every city council meeting until one of them changes their mind. He's not sure how long it'll take.

“I could go there (Wednesday) night and one of the ‘no’s’ could say ‘you know…’ like John Belushi and the Blues Brothers ‘Jesus H. Christ I’ve seen the light!" Freeman smiled, "I’m not expecting that but that would be a nice thing.”

Freeman is hoping to target some of the ‘no’ votes who said essentially that they support the anti-discrimination law, but feel it would hold more weight if it were passed by the whole community as a ballot initiative. That’s similar to what happened in Kalamazoo in 2009.

Freeman thinks that’s sort of a cop-out.

“I just don’t think that’s the way to go. The way to go is to get the representatives to do the right thing. To man up and woman up and do the right thing.”

It’s unclear if any of the 5 who voted against the law will change their minds. Some I spoke with say they’d consider it, others would not. But it is clear that the discussion over gay-rights will continue in Holland.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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