People at public hearing of Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights in Holland, discussing new protections for gay and lesbian people.
HOLLAND, Mich. (WZZM) - A statewide research project is adding new fuel to the fiery debate over gay rights in Holland.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is collecting testimony across the state to help leaders determine whether new anti-discrimination protections are needed.
The debate over gay rights had people crowding into the city council chambers, but supporters of an anti-discrimination law pointed to those not in attendance.
"I wish to recognize those who cannot attend tonight's forum because the risk of retribution is too great," says one member of the gay rights group, Holland is Ready.
"I've heard from people who are gay and their boss doesn't know they're gay and has made comments about how they wouldn't hire a gay person or a lesbian," says Lindsay TerHaar, spokeswoman for "Holland is Ready."
Last year, the city council voted 5 to 4 against new employment and housing protections for gays and lesbians. Opponents of new legislation wanted to make sure the state heard the same message.
"Where does it stop? Where is it for the person that decides bestiality is for them or being a pedophile is their preference? Now, they feel discriminated against because of their preference," says one man against new legislation.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights documented each person's testimony for a year long research project.
"There's been a storied history with this. I knew we could get a diverse range of opinions here," says Regina Calcagno, with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Some have even got into legal trouble over the issue. Pastor Bill Freeman objected to the council's decision and was charged with trespassing for refusing to leave city hall.
"It was worth it. I'd do it again in a minute," says Freeman.
Pastor Jason Smith on the other hand, supports the council's decision.
"I'd hate for it to come down to five or six people or whatever it is, making the choice for thousands of people. I was very pleased with what they did last year," says Smith.
But supporters are hoping they now have a second chance with the state.
"We say Holland is ready and when you write your report to the legislature remember us," says one member of Holland is Ready.
The Department of Civil Rights is also making stops in Jackson, Ann Arbor, and two other cities that will be determined later. The department's final report is expected in early 2013, and could lead to additions to the state's civil rights act.