The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Post-pride unrest in Ottawa County

Courtesy Grand Haven Tribune

The Ottawa County Health Department (OCHD) has recently found itself in the face of controversy following its attendance at both Grand Haven and Holland’s 2023 Pride Festivals. At these events, representatives of the health department distributed information regarding STI transmission and offered MonkeyPox and COVID-19 vaccinations to festival attendees. 

A select group of Ottawa County Commissioners have made their distaste for the OCHD’s presence known, claiming it promotes ‘risky behavior’ to local youth. 

“There is a big difference from caring about health in a community and promoting an event by being a participant,” said County Commissioner Allison Miedema, at a June 20 meeting. “By being in attendance, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health is promoting sexual promiscuity, which, in turn, can contribute to future clients of public health.” 

District 9 Commissioner Roger Belknap expressed support for Miedema’s claims during the same meeting. 

“I would like to go on record saying I really hope we’re intelligent enough not to make that an all ages event. I understand risky behavior for adults, colleges, I understand that, but ladies and gentlemen, we’re inviting our kids to participate in this and sanctioning it,” Belknap said. 

Adeline Hambley, Public Health Officer for OCHD, has defended the department’s presence at the festival claiming it is their responsibility to provide services to all communities. According to WoodTV, Hambley said OCHD representatives were able to talk to hundreds of people about STD prevention while in attendance. 

Frankly, being accused of grooming or promoting sexual deviance because we are attending and providing that service to members of our community, it’s extremely frustrating and it’s really coming from a political motivation,” Hambley said, in response to the County Commissioners’ concerns. 

Susan Mendoza, chairperson for the LGBT focused community center Out on the Lakeshore she was concerned about the select group of commissioners’ personal values and outcomes in community legislation. 

“There are Ottawa County Commissioners who make decisions (and articulated their rationale for those decisions) based on personal beliefs, rather than best practices, research and the needs of the County’s most marginalized populations,” Mendoza said. “The only festivals and community gatherings that have been actively questioned by the board are the Pride Festivals.” 

Mendoza said OCHD also had booths at Tulip Time, local farmers markets and other community events in order to promote sexual health and vaccination initiatives. 

The association of the LGBTQ community to promiscuity is an old trope used to bother, minimize, diminish, ostracize and demonize the LGBTQ community,” Mendoza said. 

As for the LGBTQ community at Grand Valley State University, the comments made by the select group of county commissioners is concerning.  

“These venues are an opportunity for many institutions and organizations to engage, empower, and support queer and trans people who have statistically and historically been oppressed and marginalized,” said DL McKinney, Director of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center. “Public health entities often participate in community outreach events, and it’s a part of their job duties to promote inclusive health initiatives.” 

GVSU has historically shown support in favor of LGBTQ communities as they were the institution-wide sponsors for both Grand Haven and Holland Pride festivals in June. According to GVNext, this required several interdepartmental collaborations within GVSU and partnerships with other local organizations. 

McKinney elaborates on the importance of having institutional partnerships in the community with programs like Pride, specifically in the case of OCHD. 

“For public entities, attending these events should provide support, not barriers,” McKinney said. “In this case, specifically with the health department, there should be a clear understanding that the growing concerns of disengagement from healthy outcomes in the LGBTQIA+ community is evidence based and can be mitigated just by becoming more aware of what this community needs to thrive.” 

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