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Refusing to be "treated as less of a person," longtime Holland resident moves to GR

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Former Holland, MI resident Ellie Frances Gramer speaks about discrimination in her hometown, and her decision to leave.
Underwriting support from:

More Information

The Issue:

On June 15, 2011, five Holland, MI (USA) lawmakers refused to even consider an anti-discrimination ordinance, blocking it: Mayor Kurt Dykstra, the honorable Brian Burch, Todd Whiteman, Myron Trethewey and Nancy DeBoer.

Until Love Is Equal:

The rassroots movement called "Until Love Is Equal" exists to continue the conversation about the econcomic and moral value of equality. ULIE formed the morning after the June 15, 2011 vote against the anti-discrimination law.

"Testify" PSA Series:

ULIE will debut a new PSA every other week, leading up to the two-year anniversary of the vote against our region's LGBTQ residents and workers, that took place June 15, 2011 in Holland, MI (USA).

Other Efforts:

Cutting edge multimedia is one way ULIE has innovated grassroots activism: in the recent past, ULIE organized an event at Rosa Parks Circle involving hundreds of residents, a helicopter, and a citywide siren: "To Holland, With Love." In the near future, ULIE is hosting a community-building event at Holland's Park Theatre, on Feb. 2 - click here for more information.


Video Credits:

Videos directed by Seth Thompson, Epiglotic Photographic
Scripts written by Erin Wilson - co-written, edited by participants.
Producers: Ella Swift and Kim Crawford
"Testify" artwork: Sarah Scott

/Rachel Kieras

/ Jolene Frankey

/Trevor Ditmar

“What makes me so different?" asks former Holland, MI resident Ellie Frances Gramer.

The question goes to the heart of the divisive decision by five members of Council, in Holland, MI, to refuse to consider an anti-discrimination ordinance that included basic protections for LGBTQ residents and workers.

Gramer lives in Grand Rapids, MI but grew up in Holland, volunteering for the Holland Area Arts Council and the Holland Symphony.

“As a kid, I was exposed to the arts and culture of the city, since my mother worked for both the HAAC and the Symphony (and still does)," says Gramer. "I loved going to all of the different concerts and arts shows.”

Grand Rapids adopted basic anti-discrimination protections in 1994 and became the 10th city in the nation to do so. Since then, lawmakers in dozens of Michigan cities have voted to adopt similar protections.

Business consultant Mary Brown, who worked on the ground level to gain protections in Grand Rapids two decades ago, said she's pleased the city has earned a reputation for inclusion.

"Back in 1994 we were hopeful for a future of inclusiveness," Brown says. "And in our collective minds' eye you could see it and its importance to the changing cityscape. We wanted to prepare a place for people like Ellie - bright, creative people - to emerge from the shadows and be out, or to come here to live and contribute and feel that they would be welcomed and protected.

"We wanted to protect our own," Brown says.

Gramer's family has lived in Holland for decades. She is the entertainment manager for SpeakEZ Lounge in Downtown Grand Rapids, and performs throughout the region as a highly regarded singer.

Gramer said one of her favorite memories of Holland was the "city-like" love of the arts, but with a hometown feel of security, acceptance and support.

"But once I grew into my teen years, I started to see this other side," Gramer says. "I saw people I cared about being judged because they loved people of the same gender. Several friends either lost their jobs or couldn't talk about their significant other, because they could be fired or lose their home.”

"It never occurred to me that a city so full of culture and a very large Christian community could be so hateful and judgmental," Gramer says. "And then the City itself condoned it."

“When I moved to Grand Rapids I found a supportive community, where I can live and celebrate my long term relationship with Tracey [Walker]. Tracey is the person I will spend the rest of my life with. We will be partners together, we will be parents together and we make a difference in our community. I choose to live in a city that will support us and treat us as the people we are. Holland has made it clear that we would not be welcome to live in their community, because we are two women,” says Gramer.

"The City of Holland, by segregating the city this way, misses out on new people moving there," Gramer says. "There are several companies who will not buy products made in Holland because of the City sending this message. I for one can say - given the choice to spend my money on dinner out - I would drive through Holland to Saugatuck, where I know I don’t have to worry. So they are turning away opportunities to grow the economy."

“This hostility towards someone who you think is different starts on a big level, and it trickles into our homes, and affects our children," says Gramer. "It doesn't matter what religion or political party you follow, treating people with hate and discrimination is wrong; it always has been and it always will be.

"[Holland] has the opportunity to be a great place to raise a family, and to produce wonderful, well-rounded people," she says. "City Council has a choice, here, but the people of Holland have to stand up for what's right.

"Because right now, the way things are," Gramer says, "it just screams to the world that the City Council doesn't want you to live in Holland if you are different. Not just gay, but different. Holland has decided I am different, and that I shouldn’t be treated the same. Who will it be next?”

"Discrimination comes in all colors and labels," she says. "It doesn't matter how you word it: it's still hate."

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The world is a-changin'  It is only a matter of time before Holland is dragged out of the 16th century and into the real world..... and a lot faster than they think.