Last month Reverend Bill Freeman was arrested for refusing to leave city hall. He was protesting Holland City Council’s decision in June 2011 against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination laws. The proposed changes would have given homosexual and transgender persons protection from discrimination by employers and landlords.
“I pleaded not guilty but maybe I violated the law,” Freeman said after his brief court appearance. “I think the City of Holland is violating a higher law in that they’re discriminating against people just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and I don’t think that’s fair,” Freeman said.
Freeman was the first person to publicly ask city council to adopt the anti-discrimination rules more than a year ago. Freeman and others have attended every city council meeting since the decision to ask city council to change their minds. But in early October some city council members told them the council members wouldn’t change their minds; adding that the group should change their tactics.
“I appreciate (Freeman) upping the ante and being willing to put himself on the line to continue the conversation,” said Colette Seguin-Beighley. She was one of close to a dozen supporters who showed up at Freeman’s district court arraignment. Seguin-Beighley directs Grand Valley State University’s LGBT Resource Center, but she says she’s known Freeman for a long time and came as a private citizen.
“It was not his intent to violate the law,” Freeman’s attorney Peter Armstrong Sr. said. “It was his intent to call attention to a pressing issue of civil liberties that he’s passionate about.”
Armstrong says it’s too soon to say if Freeman will go to trial over the charge. A new court date hasn’t been scheduled yet. The trespassing charge carries a maximum 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. It is Freeman’s first criminal offense though, so it’s unlikely he would face a maximum sentence if a judge determined he was guilty.