Carmichael backs proposed LGBTQ non-discrimination act
CHARLESTON — A group of community leaders and advocates joined by a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the president of the Senate hope 2020 is the year the Legislature passes a non-discrimination law aimed at protecting the LGBTQ community.
Fairness West Virginia, a rights advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens, held a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the Capitol to build momentum for the Fairness Act.
The Fairness Act would add age, sexual orientation and gender identity to the state Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. The goal is to prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ and transgender citizens in housing and employment.
“In most of West Virginia, it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “The Fairness Act is a common sense solution to this problem. It would provide enduring protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces. Our friends and neighbors in West Virginia need these protections.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity including Maryland. Another seven states, including Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky prohibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
West Virginia is one of 17 states with no protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, though 14 cities in the state have passed a local non-discrimination ordinances. Beckley was the most recent city to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance.
For the last 27 years, a form of the Fairness Act has been introduced in the Legislature every year since 1993, but most of the bills haven’t made it out of the first committee they’re assigned to regardless of which political party is in control.
The most recent version of the bill, introduced Jan. 22 by Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, joined pro-Fairness Act advocates Tuesday in calling for a change.
“My faith teaches me to love all people, to recognize others – as the scripture tells us – as better than ourselves and as wanting the best for each individual,” Carmichael said. “When we put in place barriers, walls, and legal structures that enable discriminatory policies, it should break our hearts.”
Recognizing the hurdles the Fairness Act has had over the years, Carmichael said it was important to work with the Republican legislative majority to see what kind of bill language would be acceptable in order to get the votes needed to pass the bill.
“There’s an expectation that this bill will run because of my appearance here. That’s not necessarily the case,” Carmichael said. “This may not be the right deal, may not be the right time, and it may not be in the perfect structure. We need to find that out. When you move a society forward, you have to bring everyone along, and we’re trying to do that in the best way possible.”
Similar bills introduced in the House during the 2019 legislative session also didn’t make it out of committee, despite numerous motions by House Democrats to discharge the bills from committee and vote on them on the floor. Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, told the panel Tuesday about the discrimination she has receive for being black, and the discrimination her son has received for being gay. She encouraged supporters of non-discrimination to call and email their lawmakers and let them know the Fairness Act has support.
“This Fairness Act is more than just a bill. It’s more than just a vote,” Walker said. “It is to say West Virginia, here we come. West Virginia, you are ready. West Virginia, let’s grow our economy. West Virginia, let’s bring back those mountaineers that have left these beautiful mountains.”
As a prelude to what supporters of the Fairness Act might encounter in the Legislature next year from socially conservative lawmakers, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, sent a press release Monday attacking the Fairness Act. Butler, who announced earlier this year his intentions to challenged Carmichael for his state Senate seat in 2020, accused the senate president of working with “liberal activists.”
“These newly proposed laws are not about equality, they set up a circumstance where certain people have special protections rather than equality,” Butler said. “I should also point out these special protection bills are not only in conflict with the West Virginia Republican Party Platform, but more importantly, they are in conflict with the values of the vast majority of West Virginians.”
According to a 2017 poll conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, 60 percent of West Virginians supported some form of non-discrimination law for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other panelists included: Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia; Hector Jeyakaran, general manager for the Embassy Suites in Charleston; Rev. Dan Kimble with the Bridgeport United Methodist Church; and Danielle Stewart with the Beckley Human Rights Commission. Stewart, who served in the U.S. Army for 23 years and began to transition from man to woman in 2015, helped advocate for the passage of Beckley’s non-discrimination ordinance in January.
“We are a state that’s losing population,” Stewart said. “As I grew up, and as a lot of the LGBTQ community grows up, they feel like they can’t stay here, that their only chance to have any kind of usable life is to leave West Virginia. And I think that it is time to change that.”