Holland considering LGBT protection ordinance

Ottawa County

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Holland is considering a local ordinance that would expand existing anti-discrimination protections for members of the LGBT community.

The city says members of the LGBT community asked the city’s human relations commission to begin discussion on local nondiscrimination legislation in 2010. The human relations commission voted unanimously to move the request to the city council. In 2011, Holland city council voted 5-4 to not move forward with the process.

“There’s definitely a reputation that Holland has had for several years that they are not inclusive and as diverse as the city likes to advertise that they are,” said Jeffrey Sorensen, who is the director of Out On The Lakeshore.

Out On The Lakeshore is a local resource center for LGBT communities in Holland, Muskegon and Saugatuck. The organization says protections at the local level are necessary and long overdue.

“Not only the LGBT community, but everyone should be able to have those basic freedoms from being discriminated against because of the inherent who they are,” said Sorensen. “Whether it’s their race, gender, orientation, if they have disabilities, it’s important to recognize that type of discrimination does happen.”

City council is now considering an ordinance that would expand existing state and federal protections for members of the LGBT community to include housing, employment and public accommodations like hotels and businesses. The new ordinance also includes language to prevent discrimination on the basis of height or weight.

“What we’re looking at doing is not actually doing the investigation and the enforcement piece on the city level but taking in any complaints that may come and moving them up to the state level,” said Mayor Nathan Bocks.

Bocks says he and the council started looking at ways to increase protections for marginalized groups in Holland shortly after being elected in November. He says since starting the process, his office has received hundreds of emails in support of the added protections.

“Every member that sits around this dais has said we do not want discrimination of any kind here in the city of Holland,” said Bocks. “All we’re really doing at this point is discussing how we make that happen. We want to send a very clear message to the people of Holland that discrimination will not stand here.”

Bocks says the city’s human relations commission suggested sending the issue to the ballots in November but says the council does not have the power to do that.

“We, as a council, do not have the ability to shift our responsibilities in passing laws and passing ordinances onto the general public. We have a job that we have to do, and we are the only ones who can pass legislation here in the city of Holland,” said Bocks.

To get the issue on the ballot, Bocks says there would have to be a petition process by members of the community first. He says even still, the council would have to act to make the ballot proposal law, which could present quite a logistical hurdle. He says that process would likely wrap up next year.

City council instead picked between three options: enacting a policy, an ordinance or not acting at all.

Bocks says while the proposed policies and ordinances were similar in language and its overall end goal, the council voted to explore the ordinance route because it provides a way to enforce it. 

Council had their first reading of the new ordinance last week. Bocks says it is the first step in the process of making the ordinance law.

Members of the LGBT community say it’s an encouraging step in the right direction.

“By amending this ordinance and including all of the other protections they’re showing that Holland is truly accepting of all different types of people,” said Sorensen.

The city council has a study session regarding this ordinance scheduled for Wednesday evening. Bocks says they will discuss the ordinance again at their Aug. 5 meeting and could potentially vote to enact the ordinance. If passed, it would become law 21 days later.

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