Thursday, February 3, 2011

Open letter from Coco Lam on being a lesbian in Holland, MI

My sister wrote this amazing, heartfelt letter.  I feel that it is important that as many people read it as possible.  Feel free to share, re-post, anything.  The message is very important. Thanks.  

Written in October of 2010. The HRC approved the measure.

Open Letter to Holland's Human Relations Commission:


I am a former Holland resident.  I was born and raised in Holland, and lived there primarily until I was 21 years old.  I now live in the town of Eugene, Oregon, and I am 25 years old.  Holland holds a special place in my heart, and so I often read articles online from my hometown.  I recently read some of the articles about the anti-discrimination clause, brought to my attention by my younger sister, Jaime Jo Coon.  I hope Holland is ready.  I feel that my insight may be of value to you as you consider including sexual orientation and gender identity to this clause.  

In one article, I saw that Reverend Houston of Fennville claims there is not discrimination based on sexual orientation.  This, I know as a fact, is untrue.  I am a lesbian, and I lived for several years out of the closet in Holland.  When I was 21, I was fired from my job at Target on the north side of Holland.  The official reason was tardiness (1-2 minutes late, 3 times) but I was made aware that the problem really was I was "too obvious" and "too open".  It's not as if I wore gay pride buttons to work or discussed my views or personal life with customers.  I just answered honestly when asked by coworkers whether I had a boyfriend.  Another young man was fired for filing a complaint against his superior for making cruel gay jokes at his expense and calling him a "fag".  But this is not just about one work place.  Following the loss of that job, I was seeking jobs at daycares.  I had experience working with children (volunteer work through Hope Church in Harlem, NY, volunteering in classrooms for HPS) and had taken several child development classes with on-site work and was at the time working on a degree in Occupational Therapy.  I was told by three daycares and preschools that I was well-qualified and they wished they could hire me, but "it would upset the parents" and "make people uncomfortable" and so I was turned down.  This is a struggle many openly queer people face in finding employment in Holland.

In high school (HHS), my friends and I formed the Gay-Straight Alliance, but it took a year of someone else trying, and months from the next year before we were allowed to be a school group.  The GSA and Holland High School's Amnesty International chapter participated in the Day of Silence, a national youth-run effort using silence to protest the actual silencing of LGBT people due to harassment, bias and abuse in schools.  This was not too long ago, in 2002, 2003, and 2004.  Each year students who participated faced harassment from other students as well as from teachers.  Formal complaints were made against a particular Physical Education teacher who referred to his student as a "fag," made fun of him to the rest of the class, and gave him an F for the days grade.  Nothing came of this complaint.  This student stopped going to class, and failed, because he was afraid of being harassed and having no one stand up for him or protect him.

There is also discrimination walking down the street.  I have had a soda bottle thrown at me from a car on one occasion while the person, a grown man, yelled, "Dyke!" and sped off.  Just this past July I was visiting my family who still reside in Holland, and I was called out in the same way, just walking down the street, twice.  Here in Eugene, Oregon, I have a wife and two daughters.  I moved nearly 3,000 miles away to find a place I could be accepted.  3,000 miles away from my family, from the community that raised me, from my life-long friends.  I suppose I could stand to live in Holland and face that discrimination, because I am a strong woman and I have gone through it before.  But my daughters (the children of my partner), eight and twelve, they have never seen this type of discrimination.  Holland is not yet a town where I would feel safe raising a family as a queer woman.  Next summer, I am bringing my wife and children to visit Holland.  For our girls, it will be the first time.  I wonder if I should prepare them for what discrimination and harassment they might see.  I worry that they will not remember anything of my beloved hometown but being yelled at by strangers for having two moms.  I am a little afraid to bring my family to Holland.  My partner and I talk about places we may move to in the future, and I would like to be near my family, but unless I know that my rights as an equal citizen will be protected, Holland is out of the question.  

We are all created equal.  I believe that is the basis of human rights.  Please, for the queer students in Holland, for queer adults looking for jobs and stability, for families looking for a peaceful life, for children of two moms and children of two dads, please, let there be no hesitation in this obvious decision.  Act out of love rather than fear.  Include sexual orientation and gender identity in the anti-discrimination clause.  Let no person suffer for being different.

Thank you for your time.

Coco Lam


Here's what's happening:  

Dear Coco and Jaime - received your "Open Letter" on Monday and we were both moved by your courageous and vibrant expression to the Human Relations Council - in fact, moved to want to share it widely because it needs to be heard/seen with what is being acted on here  - and because, Coco, your letter was so well conceived and wondrously written that it can reach people - which it has! - because I plucked it out of Facebook and e-mailed it to at least 50 friends and fellow Hope Church members - and I have about 20 replies in my Inbox expressing their feelings, saying they will relay it on, and encouraging it be sent to others - so Pfllg here has sent it on to 150 persons on their mailing list - and I sent it personally to all City Council members who will soon be voting the Human Relations recommendation soon - all of which came about from urging and permission to "share it" - so your very personal message is "out there" touching people - all because you both listened, cared and shared - which sends our pride in you both soaring - and swells out our constant love for you - Gramps and Grandma too 

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