Michigan’s Civil Rights Department heard more than two hours of testimony Tuesday night about whether the state should expand protections to gay, bisexual and transgender people. It’s a hot issue in Holland. More than 200 people packed Holland City Hall.
State law bans discrimination in housing and employment based on some factors - like race, gender, and national origin. But there are no such protections for people who are gay or transgender. That means a landlord, condo association or employer can legally discriminate based on a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
The testimony during the public hearing in Holland was roughly equal – with about half the speakers for and half against expanding protections.
"The expansion of this, to me is just another restriction of freedom,” said Todd VanDyk.
VanDyk worries expanding protections would come at the expense of another person’s freedom to run their business or property as they see fit.
"Unless the heart of a person is changed all you’re doing is regulating people’s thought life. I think it’s a dangerous place to go,” VanDyk said.
“It would mean that we wouldn’t have to worry about losing our home because someone decided that they didn’t want ‘people like us’ moving next door,” Elizabeth Spreitzer said, glancing from the podium to her wife and their infant daughter.
There were several speakers who referenced quotes from The Bible. There were some tears. Volunteers with Holland is Ready shared personal stories. Reverend Bill Freeman made an appearance. Members of Until Love is Equal and some Holland City Councilmen were in the audience.
A year ago Holland City Council voted not to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination laws. 18 other Michigan cities have adopted similar laws.
“The next step will probably be gay marriage or who knows what,” resident Dale Vander Yacht said. Vander Yacht was one of many at the hearing who argue homosexuality is a behavior that can and should be fixed.
“It would say to our young people that gender and sexual relationships are a matter of preference, but that’s not true. Human sexuality is a moral issue and deviation from monogamous, heterosexual relationships is destructive both to individuals and society as a whole,” Rob Wagner said.
Others argued that people are born homosexuals. And yet, others argued it’s none of government’s business who they sleep with.
"My entire life I have been a slave to the community that believes that I don’t have a right to exist and be who I am,” Steve Snider said at the hearing. Snider says he was fired from a company in nearby Zeeland because he is gay.
Michigan’s Civil Rights Department is not supporting or objecting to any changes in the state’s policies. It’s using the data to compile a report on the economic impact of anti-discrimination policies. They expect that report out in early 2013.