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Rosemary Ketchum: Equality Act Would Protect All West Virginia Residents

Ketchum

Recently, I joined a group of about a dozen West Virginians from across the state to visit with and start a conversation with Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito’s offices. As a member of Wheeling City Council, it’s important to me to make sure our senators understand how important it is that West Virginia can compete against other states on a level playing field.

For the past year, many of us — people of faith, parents, teachers, and community members — have been working to start a dialogue with our Congressional delegation about the need to ensure LGBTQ have equal protection under the law.

West Virginia is one of 29 states without a statewide law that bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public spaces. These laws would make sure no one gets fired or evicted from their homes just because of who they are or who they love. If we’re going to attract the best and brightest minds to move to our great state, those future Mountaineers need to know they can live free from discrimination here.

Since our state Legislature has failed to adopt these protections, it’s up to Congress. I strongly support the Equality Act; a piece of federal legislation to protect every single American, including all 1.8 million West Virginians, from discrimination. That bill recently passed the House, and it now awaits movement with the Senate.

Our senators have the opportunity to show compassionate and smart leadership. Sixty-four percent of West Virginians support laws that protect people from discrimination, according to the most recent polling available from the Public Religion Research Institute. In a time when West Virginians are stressed because of the pandemic and so much economic uncertainty, we need protections for all people.

Recent Census data released showed that our state lost 3.2 percent of its population in the last decade — more than any other state in the entire country. Young people are looking for vibrant communities that accept and support them as they are. And as more states adopt protections for LGBTQ people, West Virginia continues to be at a greater disadvantage.

I’m proud that Wheeling is one of the 14 municipalities to adopt a local nondiscrimination ordinance, but it’s not enough. Only 12 percent of West Virginians live somewhere with these local protections. All Mountaineers deserve to live free from discrimination, no matter their zip code.

I encourage Sens. Manchin and Capito to support the Equality Act. At the very least, I encourage them to continue this important conversation with our communities and their colleagues.

Equality isn’t a partisan value — it’s who we are. In West Virginia, we believe in treating everyone with the same respect and dignity, and that’s what the Equality Act is all about. It’s about treating our neighbors the way we want to be treated.

Some worry that the Equality Act will harm our religious freedom, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Religious freedom is at the bedrock of our country’s founding, and it is fully protected by the First Amendment.

In fact, the Equality Act would grant new protections for religious freedom by expanding the list of public spaces where businesses would be prevented from discriminating against someone because of their religious beliefs.

Our senators have the chance to not just make history, but to show the world that West Virginians are good, kind, and compassionate people who embrace diversity. This is who we are in the Friendly City and across our great state. I sincerely hope they seize this opportunity.

Rosemary Ketchum represents the Third Ward on Wheeling City Council.

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