Discrimination, when it rears its ugly head, often makes people feel that they are less than and undeserving of equal opportunity and fair treatment. It has shaped the legacy of the United States in devastating ways. However, as the never-ending process of healing past injustices continues all across the country, policies and laws are changing. This is true of Holland, Michigan as well. On August 19, the Holland City Council voted in favor of passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that holds specific protections regarding housing, employment, public bathrooms and more for all of those who live in Holland. The specific language from the ordinance itself states, “It is the intent of the City that no individual be denied equal protection of the laws, nor shall an individual be denied the enjoyment of their civil rights or be discriminated against because of age, race, national origin, color, disability, education, familial status, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, height, marital status, religion, source of income or weight.” One of the main deciding factors in passing this new ordinance was its ability to uphold the City of Holland’s overall welfare policy, which is to “exercise its police power to ensure public safety, public health and a person’s general welfare.”
Based on this excerpt, statements from the public, and overall exposure to how discrimination has affected the lives of Holland residents, the ordinance was passed 8-1. Before, during, and after the city council meeting, members of the Holland community gathered outside to express their opinions about the ordinance. A number of Hope College students and professors were in attendance the night that the ordinance was being proposed, including the president of Prism, Katie Moran (’22). Prism is a student organization on campus that seeks to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. Moran was happy with the outcome of the proposed ordinance. When interviewed, Moran talked about how Kristen Gray, the faculty advisor for Prism, informed the group about the ordinance vote so they could attend. On the night of the meeting, members of Prism gathered in front of the Hope anchor to walk to city hall together. Moran said that the crowd of people outside was quite large when they arrived. Some were in support of the ordinance, and some were in opposition. Moran stated their belief that a lot of the opposition was based on a homophobic mindset that did not understand the purpose of safeguarding these protections for those affected.
At one point community members were encouraged to speak. Moran stated that it was difficult to hear about instances of discrimination that those in the Holland LGBTQ+ community have faced. Even still, there was an overwhelming feeling of love and support from those who were there to lift up marginalized voices and provide encouragement; both allies and those a part of the community contributed. As the Holland City Council continued to discuss the ordinance well past midnight, members of Prism and the people of Holland waited for a ruling. When it was announced that the ordinance passed with strong support, it became clear to supporters that the City of Holland was committed to protecting all of its residents.
Additionally, Moran talked about how it felt for members of the group to have the support and affirmation of their identities acknowledged in a piece of legislation: “It felt like the city councilors were saying, ‘We will protect you, and you deserve access to the same privileges and rights as every other person.’ This experience was so validating to those who have been mistreated, and it was a big win for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Moran stated that a large part of what Prism strives toward is building a community for queer people on campus and their allies to be seen and acknowledged on campus, something that has not always been the case for LGBTQ+ people at Hope. Considering COVID-19 and the restrictions on student organizations, meetings for Prism will look different this semester, but the organization will always strive to do those things. The Prism Executive Board is planning a number of socially distanced events for LGBTQ+ history month this October. The main point that Moran emphasized is that Prism will always be a community of support, no matter what that looks like. When asked if they had a message for those seeking a community or questioning their identity, Moran stated that you don’t have to have an answer, that it’s best to be genuine and honest with yourself and there will be people on campus to support you who know what you are going through. To get involved with Prism, students may reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the signup form and join the email list.