HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A flyer is at the center of a controversial discussion about LGBTQ rights in Holland.
Last week, candidates running in the upcoming general election held a private forum at Freedom Village Holland retirement community. At the event, Mayor Nancy DeBoer and city council candidate Vicki Holmes passed out a flyer. The flyer goes into detail about what it means to support legislation that would make LGBTQ people a protected class and why they would not be prepared to vote yes on such legislation.
The idea originally came up in 2011 when community members asked city council to add LGBTQ protections to the housing policy beyond the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It was not passed by the council at the time.
Holmes says she’s received hate email as a result of the flyer, but she said things were misconstrued.
“I get asked if I’m for LGBTQ protections and the answer is a resounding yes,” Holmes said.
She explained that her biggest concern is that the legislation previously presented is not clear in defining ways to verify that someone is part of the protected class, which in this case is the LGBTQ community. She believes that could have harmful legal ramifications because people could essentially identify as a member of the community for the sole purpose of filing a lawsuit.
“Are we really ready to set a precedent that says a protected class can be fluid and not have any outside corroboration that you’re in the group?” Holmes asked.
Attorney Nathan Bocks, who’s running against DeBoer, says the flyer only paints half of the picture.
“When a person is making a discrimination claim, they first need to prove that they are a member of a protected class,” Bocks started. “Once they do that, then the burden (of proof) shifts to the defendant to show the decision they made was based on legitimate nondiscriminatory means, which is really not a high burden (of proof).”
Bocks says if the legislation were to come up again, he would support it.
“I think we do need to protect every member of the community and we have seen discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Holland. We want them to feel safe,” Bocks said.
Holmes says she, too, supports the idea, but the legislation language needs further clarity.
“We want to do a good thing: protect the LGBTQ from discrimination. I just wanted to make sure that in doing a good thing, we don’t have an unintended bad consequence and weaken civil rights,” Holmes said.
DeBoer wasn’t available to speak to News 8 in person on Thursday, but she sent the following statement regarding the issue:
“Every person needs to be protected under the law. Every person has freedom guaranteed by our constitution. My freedom stops where yours begins. Every one of us has the potential to misuse our freedom to make choices that hurt or take advantage of another person. When that happens, we need the law’s protection. When protections are misused to take advantage of or supersede another’s freedom, we need the law’s protection as well. Therefore, protection needs to be equal, protecting everyone’s freedom of choice.
“The legal analysis we presented in the flyer is correct. We did not just dream this up. In these sorts of discrimination cases, after the person alleging discrimination proves certain things, in many cases the burden shifts to the landlord. That’s what we’re talking about. The two so-called legal experts cited in the Sentinel article (one an ACLU lawyer affiliated with an LBGT project and the other employed as a government civil rights lawyer) are not only clearly biased, but one is just wrong on the law. (If you read Ms Elliott’s quote closely, she appears to be essentially agreeing with our premise of burden shifting.) And Mr. Bocks, who’s a lawyer, should know that.
“The city enforces The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the State Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which was enacted in 1976.
“Holland has had a Human Relations Commission, and to my knowledge, I’m happy to report there’s never been a housing complaint based on discrimination to the LGBTQ community.
“These are complicated issues that should be worked out on the Federal and State level and not on a local level where good intentions can have unintended consequences.”
Community members will have the opportunity to take the issues to the polls Nov. 5.