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Residents protest city council’s rejection of Holland, Mich. human rights ordinance

Residents in Holland who are not happy with the June vote by its city council shooting down a human rights ordinance are not giving up.

Wednesday night more than 150 people marched to Holland City Hall to attend the weekly council meeting, the Grand Rapids Press reports. The march was in response to the June vote by the council rejecting an ordinance which would have prohibited discrimination it the city in public accommodations and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression. The ordinance lost by a 5 to 4 vote.

Supporters announced shortly after that vote that they would not seek to place the issue on the ballot, but instead focus on the council itself, trying to change minds. They said they would attend every meeting until that happened.

The ordinance vote spawned a movement in the traditionally conservative region of the state. The movement, called Until Love is Equal, has include t-shirts and signs in Holland businesses that support the ordinance. The group is also boycotting those businesses that don’t support the ordinance.

All of this then served as background when over 150 people marched to the Holland City Hall Wednesday night to make their presence and voices heard.

The march was organized by Max Singer, an 18-year-old graduate of Black River Public High School in Holland, and current Grand Rapids Community College student.

Some graduates of the high school also spoke at the rally, reports the Press:

“A non-accepting community, in this day and age, will lose the support of its young population, and thus lose any hope of having a successful future,” said Tessa Perez, a 19-year-old University of Michigan student and Black River graduate, who shared her story of a friendship with someone who struggled with his sexual identity, leading to depression, before coming out to friends and immediate family.

Thomas Crisp, a professor of childhood education at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota campus, spoke of being harassed and discriminated against for his sexual orientation while growing up in Holland, saying it led to him attempting suicide, and eventually leaving the community.

“Lives are literally at stake. Please don’t wait until someone is killed or kills (themselves) before you take action,” Crisp said.

Opponents of the civil rights measure were not silent, either.

Rev. Ralph Houston who opposed the measure said that “giving into gay rights” was a “peril.” Another opponent, Roger Blauwkamp, said it was time for supporters to “grow up” and “accept” the decision by the council.

For their part, the elected members were not silent. Councilmember Dave Hoekstra told the Press that as long as one person in the community was being discriminated against, it was one too many. Hoekstra supports the ordinance. Mayor Kurt Dykstra, who opposed the measure, said that the ordinance rejection should not be taken as a sign the city is not open and welcoming.

Oscar Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black may disagree with how welcoming Holland is to the LGBT community after his brush with Hope College in 2009. The screenwriter of “Milk”– a biopic about Harvey Milk an 1970′s gay San Francisco City Commissioner assassinated along with Mayor George Mascone — was in the area shooting a film when he was invited to speak on the campus of the private Christian college. That offer was rescinded because officials at the college didn’t want him to discuss the gay rights agenda.

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