Poets allow us to rise above what we know and what we are, to see what is in between. That is where our truth lies.
When I listen to the Bob Dylan song, "I Shall Be Released," I see the face of real patriotism. No song better describes the year we've shared in Michigan, the tumultuous fights to claim what is ours. In between our rights and our privileges, in the United States of America, lies our equality.
"They say everything can be replaced
They say every distance is not near... "
In the fight for equality, we are all American patriots in the truest sense, and we stand on the shoulders of many patriots and freedom fighters who've done the heavy lifting. From the days of Stonewall, through the persecution years of the AIDS crisis in America, all the way to the diligent efforts of the Holland Human Relations Commission (HRC), which declared that Holland must protect its fellow citizens from discrimination.
But the Holland City Council voted against the HRC's findings, causing many within their city and outside to scratch their heads in confusion. Over the last decade, our leaders elected and within the corporate arenas have sought to have the world view us (Holland and Grand Rapids) as a region. This is something other cities with close neighbors have done for years.
So having a city the size of Holland refuse to enact protections for their LGBT after other cities within our state but most importantly, other like-sized sectors we are competing with for business is, well, just bad business.
And now, in between our closely connected cities in West Michigan, lies the soul of a region that is suffering with the need to find some way to heal our land.
"They say every man needs protection...."
Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra himself appointed the HRC. In 2010, Holland City Council asked the HRC to study the need for equality protections. In 2011, HRC recommended unanimously that Holland make it illegal for people to evict and fire people who happen to be queer.
Mayor Dykstra ended up voting against the HRC, excluding protections for LGBT residents and workers. So while Holland protects the civil rights of tall people and overweight people and Christians, people like myself are left in harm's way.
It is hard not to take it personally, but it is even harder to fathom when you consider that Grand Rapids enacted their LGBT protections in 1994 -- the very same year that San Francisco enacted the same protection for their citizens. The difficult work has been done in Grand Rapids and all over our state in cities larger and smaller than our neighbor to the west as 17 Michigan cities have protected their LGBT population. So what are the risks to Holland?
While I'm protected for my beliefs in Holland, it is not so for my orientation. You may have changed your religion (Episcopalian to Lutheran, for instance), but try to imagine changing the gender you're attracted to!
Mayor Dykstra voted to maintain a reality where people like me are subject to the whims of bigoted people, who may despise me. They say they love the sinner, but... excuse me? Is that what I am? And is one's definition of "sin" what our lawmakers are now in the business of policing? And while there are seven passages that are flown around at the drop of the hat, rarely are they reviewed through the microscope of the scholarly and religious individuals who proclaim again and again a very different interpretation of these verses.
Furthermore, to bring in selective verses is to open a sort of Pandora's box that the Founding Fathers knew would release trouble. I firmly believe they knew even back then we were on our way to becoming a diverse and welcoming nation and fought hard to create workable boundaries where religion could flourish freely, but installed a government based on individual freedoms.
Then something extraordinary happened a year ago on June 16, 2011 in response to the vote against equality. Grassroots organizations like Holland Is Ready and Hope (College) Is Ready forged an alliance with a new movement, Until Love Is Equal (ULIE).
And they dug in. Many vocal supporters from Holland and West Michigan stepped forward to share stories of discrimination in housing and employment along with candid testimony originating in professional, religious, cultural and lived experience -- legal, psychological, military, heritage, tradition, personal, violations in housing and employment, and more.
In the end, though, the supporters of equality were asked by the council members to not return on Oct. 5, 2011, the same day CBS Outdoor said they refused to do business with pro-equality groups in West Michigan all the while offering billboard support for gun shows and porn conventions.
Supporters again honored the request when Councilors asked that ULIE members stop attending City Council meetings. It was suggested that supporters of equality find other ways to continue their efforts.
And they did.
• Knocking on doors and talking to people
• Canvassing crowds and polling residents
• Hosting a multitude of community-building events
• Creating original, innovative and high-quality media
• Conducting countless interviews and presenting data
• Staging protests and demonstrations, all respectfully
• Receiving endorsements by Holland's biggest corporations
• Getting endorsed by a network of Holland's "mom 'n pop" stores
• Receiving nearly universal support from the region's craft beer industry
This weekend marks two anniversaries and an evolution in tactics according to those on the ground fighting for these rights. On June 15, 2011, Holland voted down the equality law. On June 16, 2011, the unprecedented Until Love Is Equal movement was born.
This weekend, organizers and community supporters have been invited to speak at the Waterfront Film Festival (Friday) and West Michigan Pride Festival. The group will announce a number of exciting new plans to kick off its second year, including a planned return to regularly attending City Hall meetings.
And on June 28, Holland Pride will be celebrated with a special program at the Park Theatre that is clearly aimed at making sure the public is aware what is at stake with Grand Rapids and Holland working together towards a solution.
"Any day now, any day now I shall be released"
Mayor Dykstra said in defense of his anti-equality vote:
"I don't think the measure of a community's openness and welcome-ness is dependent on the presence of an ordinance or not."
Mayor Dykstra's reasoning would be understandable if nobody in Holland considered people like me an abomination of God, fated to spend eternity in Hell. In their eyes, it is easy to not protect something many believe have no worth in their city.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking is often the basis for hate crimes, bullying and in some regions of our planet, genocide. As a person who has spent my life in and out of the church, I have never understood the hatred surrounding this issue.
Mayor Dykstra's Human Rights commission he, himself, appointed to research the need for anti-discrimination protections presented him with evidence and data of violations in Holland.
Mayor Dykstra's reasoning would be understandable if his own citizens hadn't come forward at every meeting to assure him Holland be burned to the ground if the city in fact did choose to protect people like me.
Holland is not ready... until love is equal.
I am a patriot and this fight has released that in me, as it should in all of us who believe in equality, because our fellow Americans are in harm's way in Holland.
Five out of nine members of the council voted to preserve the right to evict and fire gay people with no cause other than being born who they are. Yes, born. Forty years ago, science figured out genetics to be the root cause and not because of some sham theory of an overbearing mother and an absent father.
This is a uneasy theory I am most thankful has been proven false, since it would be easy to draw these lines to my own life. It is simply not the truth. I would never blame my parents and I certainly don't appreciate those who continue this line of guilt-inducing non-truth.
In fact, I dare say some of these same folks who claim the LGBT of Holland deserve no rights have more than likely adopted or integrated newer rounds of scientific surgery or practice to their own lives than they are willing to extend to others in their community who I again repeat were born this way according to the science community. When the systematic disenfranchisement of people like me is treated as a perfectly justifiable opinion then, Holland, we have a problem.
As we watch fireworks fly on the 4th of July, let us celebrate more than what we accomplished here, in this great nation. Let us celebrate the obligation we inherit at birth to honor our freedoms and to keep them but also when a group is singled out for discrimination that we extend protects. We need to close the loopholes.
It's your move, Holland. It has been one year and nothing has been done to protect this group though the council has heard much testimony and evidence. They have been charged to protect their community's residents from harm. And one year later, nothing, not one piece of protections for this group has been extended.
I paraphrase Spike Lee, who reminds me even to this day why I and other elected officials, foundations, nonprofits and ordinary people on the ground continue to fight for equality in our communities for all people. It's time to "do the right thing."
Because the future needs all of us. All of us.