Holland Human Relations Commission recommends protections for LGBT citizens

Not swayed by anti-gay remarks

By Jim Larkin

HOLLAND -

The Rev. Bart Spencer of the Lighthouse Baptist Church said protecting gay people under the city's anti-discrimination ordinance would make criminals out of those who have high moral standards.

Resident Joe Stafford said sometimes discrimination is a good thing.

And many of the approximate 100 people at the Oct. 21 Holland Human Relations Commission said "Amen" and "That's right, brother" while nodding their heads in agreement.

But in the end the commission unanimously recommended to the Holland City Council that sexual orientation and gender identity be added to the classes protected under the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

Commissioners said they were moved by the many letters they received in support of attempting to protect gay, lesbian and transgender people in the community. And they added that their mission, by definition, was "to protect the equal rights and equal opportunities of all citizens by preventing discrimination" and promote "social justice and cultural understanding and improve relationships among all citizens of the City of Holland."

They added that after a summer of research they could reach no other conclusion than to recommend inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the anti-discrimination ordinance.

Those speaking at the widely publicized commission meeting, which had to be moved from its normal meeting room to the much larger City Council chambers, were almost evenly divided on the issue.

On one side were those who said homosexuality is morally wrong and by broadening the ordinance the city would be making a dangerous statement advocating for homosexuals. One woman said it would open the door for others, and related that in another state some said it would make it OK for people to have sex with sheep. Another man said he had proof that being gay isn't natural because if you put two men on a desert island they wouldn't be able to procreate. Another expressed concerns about the high incidence of AIDS in the gay community and still another said the city might just as well also add prostitution as a protected class.

On the other side were those, including three local pastors, who said protecting all people in the community against discrimination was the right and moral thing to do. Arni Schering said he got along fine with his former church and neighbors until he came out as gay about a year ago, but now his neighbors won't speak to him. A businessman who declined to give his name for fear of retribution said he had experienced discrimination first hand.

"We want to be a safe, welcoming, productive place for all our brothers and sisters," said the Rev. Jennifer Adams, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church and a leader of the local group Holland Is Ready.

The Rev. Ruth Hawley Lowry said the position of the Reformed Church of America, which has a large presence in Holland, is that the denial of human and civil rights based on sexual identity is inconsistent with Reformed theology.

And Tony Cortese, a vice president with Herman Miller, said that the company - as one of the largest employers of Holland residents - supports passage of including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and that he, as a Holland resident, does so also. He said it made sound business sense to do so and that Herman Miller itself has a strong belief in inclusion.

"To succeed as a company, we must include all the expressions of human talent and potential that society offers," notes the company's statement on inclusion. "When we are truly inclusive, we go beyond toleration to understanding all the qualities that make people who they are, that make us unique, and most important, that unite us."

Herman Miller has been named one of the most admired companies in the country by Fortune magazine, which also named it one of the 100 best companies to work for. Fast Company listed it as one of the country's 50 most innovative companies.

The City Council has not yet determined when it will take up the issue.

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