One of the benefits of doing a project like the People’s History of the LGBTQ community in West Michigan is that you get an opportunity to see where we have been in order to makes some determinations about where we might be going.
The LGBTQ community in Grand Rapids fought hard to get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 1994, but before that they had a tough battle to get city support for a Pride Celebration.
At the time, Mayor Gerald Helmholt, would not offer a city proclamation endorsing the Pride Celebration in the late 80s when the first events were held in Grand Rapids. Helmholt was also opposed to the first attempts to get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed in Grand Rapids in 1991 & 1992. Helmholt, a member of Citizens for a United Grand Rapids, was quoted in a June 3, 1992 Press article as saying, “I think it’s the basic belief of the group that a thorough investigation will reveal there is no more discrimination against gays and lesbians than there is against anyone else.”
Here are some local TV news stories from 1988 about the first Pride Celebration in Grand Rapids, along with Mayor Helmholt’s justification for not endorsing Pride in Grand Rapids.
However, not all area mayors were opposed to what the Grand Rapids LBGTQ community was trying to accomplish at the time. In fact, in 1989, the Mayor of Holland, Phil Tanis, wrote a fairly compelling letter in support of Grand Rapids Pride.
“The struggle for civil rights for all had a good beginning in the 1960s. Today, unfortunately, most people seem to think the fight is over, continue to work against equality, or just don’t care. None of these attitudes is unacceptable.
The fight has only just begun. This sad fact is especially true for members of your organization.
The theme for your rally this year, ‘Diversity is our strength, equality our birthright,’ is one everyone should embrace and fight for.
Please accept my personal endorsement for your Celebration and your fight for civil rights.”
It would seem that the current Mayor of Holland and several of its City Council members are unaware of this history or they are hoping that at least we don’t know about it.