Meet the Leaders
While everyone’s voice is important, we want to highlight the three who have been working tirelessly to research, meet with other community leaders, work with the ACLU, and ensure that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies stay up-to-date on anything related to the proposed changes to Holland’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance.
- Sara Van Tongeren, LMSW, is a local psychotherapist located in downtown Holland who specializes working with women and LGBTQ+ clients. Sara has devoted her career to helping empower people to find their voice and live into the reality of their true selves. For many years, she has been working behind the scenes, building relationships with City Council and networking with people in Holland in order to develop affirming procedures and better more inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.
- Jeffrey Sorensen is Out On The Lakeshore’s first Director and oversees all programming, events, the PRIDE Celebration, and relationships with the community. Jeffrey has volunteered on several non-profit Boards and is passionate about helping others find the resources they need. He has a strong marketing and public relations background and is using this as the the main spokesperson for both OOTL and the Non-Discrimination Ordinance movement.
- Rev. Jen Adams is the Rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, and is a founding board member of both Holland is Ready and Out On The Lakeshore. Jen was a leader of the movement to change the non-discrimination ordinance back in 2011 and brings a wealth of experience and vital knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues.
What’s happened so far?
On 12/18/2019, Rev. Jen Adams (Founder of Holland is Ready), Jeff Sorensen (Director of Out On The Lakeshore), and Sara Van Tongeren (psychotherapist), as well as many other community members, presented a formal request to City Council to amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to (a) include the language “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” under the protected groups, and (b) provide protection for all of the groups for employment.
At the city council meeting on 01/08/2020, Council member Mike Trethewey made a motion that directed the City Attorney to begin the process to explore what it would look like to amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The council voted unanimously (9-0) to begin this process. In fact, this was the point that it was voted against 5-4 in 2011.
The next step is that the City Attorney, Ron VanderVeen, will research surrounding areas ordinances and present various options to the City Council at a study session at a to-be-determined date. The City Council will then review and discuss the various options and potentially vote based on the options presented at the study session. The vote could include further direction to the City Attorney (such as draft an ordinance or revise language). If there is a recommendation for an ordinance change, this would require two different votes, taking place at separate City Council meetings.
Note that during the COVID-19 crisis, the city of Holland suspended all “non-essential” meetings, which included study sessions. With this in mind, the Study Session in which council will review options, thus continuing this process, has also been postponed. We will keep the public informed as OOTL learns more and once dates are set for further meetings.
How you can help?
Many members of council said what changed their minds were the demeanor and spirit of the people that made the request on 12/18/2019: that we were local, invested in our community, and wanted our community to be a better place. Many were moved by how the request was made and the continued spirit of the LGBTQ community here in Holland.
It is important that you continue to voice your support and ask your friends and loved ones to keep writing Council & the City Manager to share your personal stories. If you would like to speak to City Council at one of the meetings or would like to assist in another way, we encourage you to speak with OOTL Director, Jeff, by emailing email@example.com to help determine how you can help.
What is the policy now?
The City of Holland Housing Ordinance is currently designed “to assure equal opportunity to all persons to live in adequate housing facilities, regardless of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, marital status or source of income and to that end to prohibit discrimination in housing.”
(Ord. No. 1341, 7-17-2002, Sec 14-5)
What do we hope to change?
Adding “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” as protected against discrimination for housing
Expanding non-discrimination protections for employment for all protected groups
What would not change?
- The Process: How to file a complaint remains the same. Currently, the Human Relations Commission (HRC) handles all complaints for discrimination covered under the current ordinance. By amending the ordinance, there is no additional work or procedure that is required on behalf of the commission or the city. If it is a housing complaint, the HRC would refer it to Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR), and if it is an employment complaint, the HRC would refer it to either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the MDCR, depending on the size of the organization.
- Religious Freedom: This ordinance does not change any aspect of religious freedom. Churches and other religious organizations can hire whomever they see as the best fit for any employment positions that are ministerial in nature.
- Existing Protected Groups: The protections for all of the other existing named groups remain intact.
Why do this now?
The current Michigan Civil Rights Commission interprets the Elliott-Larson civil rights act of 1976 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, this expanded interpretation on a federal level is being heard in the Supreme Court. By Holland expanding its non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity, we are making it clear that LGBTQ+ people are protected against discrimination and better alligning with federal courts and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. By doing this now, Holland has the opportunity to set a standard of inclusion for all.