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Until Love (and Money) is Equal

Economic concerns regarding the perpetuation of discrimination in Holland, Michigan and a call for support for Until Love is Equal.
Several Grand Rapids residents, business owners and community leaders showing support for Until Love is Equal at The Meanwhile.

Several Grand Rapids residents, business owners and community leaders showing support for Until Love is Equal at The Meanwhile. /Terry Johnston Photography

Underwriting support from:

YOU + Meanwhile Bar + Friends = LOVE

What: A benefit to support the work of Until Love is Equal and their efforts to reverse an order in Holland and promote equality for the LGBT community. Includes free pizza at 5:30, music and updates from the Until Love is Equal movement. Guest speakers include former Mayor John H. Logie.

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m. Friday

Where: The Meanwhile, 1005 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI



As a resident and business owner in West Michigan, I have been troubled by the (in)action of the Holland City Council pertaining to the failed June 15th vote that would have guaranteed basic civil rights to our LGBT friends, neighbors, customers and fellow human beings through creating anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment. (Click for the packet from that meeting with more info on the failed ordinance)

My concern over this matter is two-fold. First, I believe that all human beings are entitled to certain rights and protections, derived from our shared humanity and enforced by the legal system, regardless of gender, race, color, religion, age, national origin, familial status, disability and YES — sexual orientation and gender identity.

My second concern is the potential economic effect of permitting a culture of exclusion. We all know times are tough — we don’t need a Rapidian article to tell us that our economy is struggling and adversely affecting millions of people. The failure to adopt the ordinance allows landlords and employers to deny housing and employment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This has an impact on the economy for two primary reasons — the legal refusal of commerce and the macro implications of excluding a significant segment of our population from our communities and organizations.

As the owner of a company that manages more than 300 rental properties in the Grand Rapids area, I have drafted approval criteria for prospective renters that include factors such as rental history, ability to pay and the applicant’s criminal background. For some properties, we have policies for smoking and/or animals. These policies exist to protect the real estate investment against unpaid rent and property damage. In my experience, and as common sense should reveal, one's sexual orientation does not affect the probability of rent loss or property damage. This seems silly to have to mention, but it is an important point. In essence, without anti-discrimination protections, LGBT people are in the same class of renters as pet owners, people with bad credit, college students and criminals. Our clients would be upset if they knew we turned away a qualified paying customer, gay or straight, as doing so would hurt their ability to earn an income. By refusing income, paying expenses such as property taxes and home improvements becomes more difficult — impacting not only the property owner, but residents of the taxing authority, contractors and material suppliers.

A similar effect exists with employers. With the legal permission to deny employment to individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, employers can potentially forfeit talent and/or increased productivity from LGBT candidates in favor of heterosexual candidates with less capable skill sets. This not only threatens the bottom line of the company itself, but carries over to all of the company’s stakeholders — its suppliers, customers, employees and community — through reduced profits that cannot be reinvested, products that may be inferior and economies of scale that cannot be achieved. I am not arguing that LGBT employees are “better”; I am simply stating that the best person should be hired for the job regardless of sexual orientation in order for a company to maximize profits for itself and benefits for those it directly serves and indirectly impacts.

Providing further concern are the macro implications of legally permitting discrimination. The Holland City Council not only represents the residents of Holland — it is also capable of influencing the greater region of West Michigan. When mentioned in regional and national media, Holland’s location is referred to as West Michigan, or a town 30 miles west of Grand Rapids — leading those learning about the events of our region to associate what happens in Holland with all of West Michigan.

Since “sexual orientation” was not on the 2010 census, let us assume that 10 percent of the population is LGBT. This statistic has been used since the Kinsey study in 1948 and is probably completely inaccurate, but it is widely accepted and is all I’ve got. (For what it’s worth, there are surveys as low as 2 percent and as high as 26 percent) Furthermore, of the heterosexual population, a vast majority have LGBT friends and family members (as high as 73 percent, which seemed low to me). These individuals and their families make decisions daily about where to live, start a business, seek a job, eat a meal, grab a drink, see a show or take a vacation. If even a fraction of these individuals have the moral integrity to refuse financial support to a city that denies civil rights to its residents and visitors, the long-term financial impact will be very significant.

Furthering these concerns are the implications for children as they are exposed to a society in which discrimination is accepted. Not only will this keep young people away from West Michigan in favor of more accepting regions, it will also assist to perpetuate discriminatory views, which will put children at a disadvantage as they grow up in an increasingly diverse world.

This is the point at which, when initially writing this piece, I started to go off for paragraphs with statistics about population numbers, GDP, studies, etc. However, I found myself amidst an essay that just kept going — and my initial reason for writing this was to be concise and tell you all to support Until Love Is Equal and go to the event this Thursday at The Meanwhile. So, with that said, I’ll leave you with one of the findings that resonated with me. I first happened upon this when writing a term paper while doing my undergraduate studies at Grand Valley State University.

"It has long been established that companies with the highest rating on equal employment opportunities have performed better in the stock market than companies with poor performances." 

Furthermore, research found that the revenues of these higher ranking companies were, on average, two-and-a-half-times those of lower ranking companies. This was from a journal article titled “Diversity Return on Investment: Making the Business Case for Diversity,” by Phyllis Keys, which I could not locate online in a free-for-the-public format. Diversity Return on Investment (DROI) is an interesting topic with plenty of data if you would like to look into it more for yourself. Google would be a good place to start.

Given our current economy, we do not need any factors (especially unjust, discriminatory factors within our control) against us as we try to create more jobs and economic value. For this reason, and others, I hope to see you Thursday night at The Meanwhile for YOU + Meanwhile Bar + Friends = LOVE. This event will serve as both a social event and a fundraiser for Until Love is Equal — a local, grassroots organization fighting against discrimination in Holland. Visit their website or Facebook Page to learn more about this organization and how to get involved.

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Thank you Ryan for your insight into ethical housing (and your years of demonstrated practice of the same, as a property owner and manager for probably THE most diverse community of tenants in the great state of Michigan). Thank you for being an example of fairness and welcoming *as a workable business model* in this economy. Perhaps the only one that will see us through this downturn. This piece was kind, data-driven, loving and infused with pride and protectiveness for the amazing region of West Michigan that needs ALL of us to take a stand to protect vulnerable minorities. Your company provides a tool and a resource for some of the most underserved people in the region and you do it with respect, grace and fairness. Your voice has amazing credibility and the community is grateful for your willingness to speak truth on this vitally important issue with Holland City Council and the need to make things right for this tightly-knit community of cities and people who comprise them.

Our greatest allies live in the hearts of those who presently disagree with us, and you've treated them courteous and with dignity. Which is what all people deserve. Cheers.