FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The City Council of Fairmont passed a measure Tuesday night by a 7-2 margin that adopts the language of a non-discrimination resolution as part of a wider ordinance to adopt a Human Rights Commission.
Council members Brad Merrifield of the Fourth District and Fran Warner of the Fifth District dissented from the majority.
“The true leaders serve,” Fairmont resident Warren Hilsbos said, offering his support for the ordinance.
He preached empathy, understanding, and courage as reasons to vote for the ordinance re-establishing a Human Rights Commission.
“With this empathy, we can build understanding,” Hilsbos said.
The ordinance would provide the Human Rights Commission the opportunity to add language protecting members of the LGBTQ community, some of whom spoke directly Tuesday night.
“Empathy and understanding still mean nothing if you do not have the courage to act,” Hilsbos added.
A common criticism of the ordinance by the 51 speakers who spoke out against it involved fear over men or women choosing to enter opposite restrooms. Several council members suggested that this interpretation of the ordinance, which re-establishes a Human Rights Commission with added language that includes protections for members of the LGBTQ community, was incorrect. 34 people spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“I am a supporter of small business and small government,” Councilman Robert Linger, Third District Councilman, said Tuesday night before he voted to pass the ordinance. “I support the Second Amendment. I do not appreciate being condemned to hell.”
Pastors of multiple denominations of Christianity offered their support and opposition of the Commission.
“You can not legislate morality,” local pastor George Batten said. “The Human Rights Commission already exists in West Virginia. Let them do their job.”
The ordinance also earned support from disabled rights advocates. However, there was a significant split among business owners, landlords, and other residents. At least two military veterans spoke — one each supporting and opposing the measure. A number of Fairmont State students and professors also spoke, with a majority against the ordinance.
“It discriminates rather than liberates the people of Fairmont,” Fairmont resident Karen Ford said.
Allen Whitt, executive director of the Family Policy Council, was thrown out of the council chambers after being ruled “out of order.” He claimed in a correspondence with the Marion County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office that police would not be able to arrest men or women who undressed in a bathroom, shower, or locker room of the opposing gender. Mayor Thomas Mainella (8th District) claimed in a correspondence via text message during the meeting that information was incorrect.
With the passage, Fairmont’s Human Rights Commission now includes language that protects people based on gender identity and sexual orientation. This also makes Fairmont the eleventh city in the state to adopt this language in some form.