Michigan march for equality

August 10, 2011

HOLLAND, Mich.--Some 200 marchers gathered on August 3 to put pressure on Holland officials to include sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the city's anti-discrimination policy.

People came from all over western Michigan, and there was a large turnout of youth from the town of Holland itself. Everyone gathered at Smallenburg Park to share food and discussion and then marched through downtown up to city hall. Protester chanted, "Together we stand. Together we fight. We demand our equal rights" and "Gay, straight, Black, white--All unite for equal rights."

On June 15, equal rights organizers faced a defeat when Holland's city council voted 5-4 against a proposal to draft changes to the city's non-discrimination ordinances and equal employment opportunity policy to include the language "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Currently, landlords and employers can discriminate, evict or fire people based on their identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. At the June 15 meeting, a handful of youth and self-identified Christians who support LGBT-inclusive ordinances turned out.

Since then, a grassroots campaign for equality has gained momentum, unifying people not just from Holland but also from the entire West Michigan community. Activists have spearheaded a campaign they call "Until Love Is Equal." Its website states, "Until Love Is Equal is a grassroots organization based in West Michigan, dedicated to the protection of personal liberty and full civil rights regardless of sexual orientation."

During the public comment period of the August 3 city council meeting, 31 people spoke in favor of the LGBT-inclusive ordinances and just four against it. Those who spoke in favor of the LGBT community included powerful stories from parents, families and friends.

Several youth from Holland spoke in favor of an LGBT inclusive ordinance, and one girl stated, "I am the future of Holland and I could not raise a family here." A teenager from Rockford, Mich., who is the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school, said that she would continue to fight and be a part of the movement.

The director of the LGBT center at Grand Valley State University, Colette Beighley, was there to speak in favor of the ordinance. So was Bill Freeman, chaplain of Interfaith Congregation in Holland, who cited a Christian song, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love," but said it should be, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Homophobia."

Currently, there are several LGBT groups that have formed over the past few years to take up the issues of discrimination and build the kind of grassroots movement needed to drive a victory forward. Groups like Until Love Is Equal, Holland Is Ready, Hope Is Ready, West Michigan Pride and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have all joined the movement in the West Michigan area.

Before and after the council meeting, it was clear to many activists that the fight has only begun. West Michigan is often seen as too conservative for such a struggle to be victorious, but people have spoken and acted otherwise. Anyone interested in getting involved should check out the Until Love Is Equal website

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