Lawmakers Mull Civil Rights Protections for LGBTQ Community
WHEELING — West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld says now is the time to extend civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in West Virginia.
“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” said Weld, R-Brooke.
His colleagues in the Senate representing the Northern Panhandle indicate they also might be in favor of changing state laws to prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Weld and Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, recently sent out a joint bi-partisan statement calling for passage of legislation prohibiting discrimination against any West Virginian in housing or employment “simply because of who they love or who they are.”
Both previously have signed on to legislation extending civil rights to the LGBTQ community, and say inclusivity and the talents of all is needed in West Virginia if the state is to move forward.
“We put something out stating what we believe — that all kinds are welcome here in West Virginia,” Weld said.
He thinks West Virginia’s loss of population has resulted in a loss of talent and skills in the state, which now is need of everybody from scientists to welders to artists.
“Whatever you may be, West Virginia wants you and skill set to make the state more productive and more vibrant,” he said.
Weld — himself a military veteran — offered a scenario in which a fellow veteran who served in Afghanistan comes home and wants to live in West Virginia, but is denied housing.
“What if that denial is based on the fact they are gay?” Weld asked. “He served his country, and could be denied housing because he is part of gay community.
“That is patently unfair, and must be remedied.”
While past legislative attempts at passing protections for the LGBTQ community have been unsuccessful, Weld said he thinks this could change.
“Over the past several years, people have opened their minds to see the world is much more than the black and white terms they saw it in before,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, we have had a positive response from fellow legislators to our op-ed.”
Recent happenings suggest some lawmakers still may be reluctant to address any bills relating to the LGBTQ issues.
Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, this year proposed legislation banning “conversion treatments” for transgender children.
The legislation failed to make it out of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.
It stated, “Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.”
The practice has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, according to the legislation.
Maroney, also a medical doctor, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment this week.
Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, said he supported Maroney’s bill. He also favored another, SB 391 “relating to unlawful discriminatory practices in categories covered by Human Rights Act and Fair Housing Act.”
Ihlenfeld suspects similar bills will be offered again in the 2020 session, and that he will support them again.
“We need to enact policies like that because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Part of the reason we continue to lose population is we don’t have forward thinking policies like this. People wonder why we have a population decrease. There is a perception among some people that we are not receptive to others, and we don’t have policies welcoming to everyone.
“It’s something we need to do to grow our population and our economy. It’s what we need to do to be competitive with states that are doing it the right way.”
Ihlenfeld said support for legislation pertaining to LGBTQ issues isn’t split along party lines and that lawmakers from both sides have signed onto bills.
“We have bi-partisan support, just not enough of it,” he said.
Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said LGBTQ-related bills present “a difficult situation” for many lawmakers because of their religious convictions.
“I don’t think anyone should be denied housing or a job because of that (their sexual identity). My only problem is that it brings a clash of beliefs,” he said.
“These are good people, and I don’t think they should be discriminated against. But we’re putting up conflicts between beliefs.”
He doesn’t think legislation extending protections to the LGBTQ community will pass in West Virginia anytime soon.
“As conservative as we are, I don’t think so,” Clements said. “As a member of the Methodist church, I know they had quite a conflict over that this year, and the church took the traditional standing.”
Clements also doesn’t believe not having these protections in the state is driving people out of the state, or keeping others from wanting to move here.
“We’ve got too many other problems that keep people out of here we have to address.” he said. “We have to get roads fixed, and make sure our education system is not being perceived as being so bad.”
On the House side, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, is among those pushing for legislation to extend protections to the LGBTQ community.
“Not only do I support it, I’ve co-sponsored the same legislation since I was elected,” he said. “Last session, I moved to take up the bill for immediate consideration on the House floor multiple times and it was blocked repeatedly along party lines.
“It’s embarrassing, especially after the bigoted remarks of members of the Legislature recently, that leadership refuses to do the right thing and pass the bill. I don’t expect it to be taken up this session or even during next regular session. Leadership would rather remain on the wrong side of history,” Fluharty said.