Holland City Council to vote on protecting LGBTs from discrimination

Local opinion split in conservative city

By Jeremy Martin

HOLLAND-On Wednesday the Holland City Council will make a historic decision, one that could potentially alter the practices and thinking of all who reside within the city's borders.

The council will meet to decide whether or not to include the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the city's code of ordinances, thereby extending civil rights coverage to Holland's LGBT community in matters of housing and hiring. Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, passed 35 years ago, does not declare LGBT discrimination illegal.

"We're being watched all over the state. They're saying 'If Holland can do it, we can do it,''' said Don Bergman, a co-founder and board member of Holland's PFLAG, noting the conservative-leaning town of 33,000 on Michigan's west side.

Bergman, who plans to attend the Wednesday evening council session, said that public opinion of the amendment is currently split nearly 50-50.

The meeting, taking place at 7 p.m. in the first floor council chambers of Holland's City Hall, comes on the heels of last week's "study session" that saw a wide swath of Holland's citizenry speak for and against the purposed amendment.

Some, such as Reverend Bernie Timmerman of Holland's Zion Chapel, feel an amendment of this nature will lead to "moral chaos."

Despite outspoken opposition by groups both religious and otherwise, Bergman believes that Wednesday's vote could go in either direction.

"It's really going to be close; we really have no idea how it's going to go. Some people on the council make their views known and some don't," Bergman said.

Messages left with council members were not immediately returned.

A majority yes vote from the eight member council would mean that the city attorney's office, along with the Holland Human Rights Commission, would begin drafting an amendment to chapter fourteen of the city code of ordinances.

Twenty cities in Michigan, including Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, currently include the LGBT community in their housing and hiring ordinances.

For more information on the city council or to view the current codes, visit www.cityofholland.com.

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