FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The Executive Director of Fairness West Virginia has no intention of backing down if Fairmont Ordinance 482, which re-establishes a Human Rights Commission, does end up facing a city-wide referendum.
“The Family Policy Council has tried to undo some of these ordinances in other municipalities where we’ve been successful,” Andrew Schneider said in a phone call with WAJR Wednesday. “They tried to vote out the Council members who supported non-discrimination in the cities of Lewisburg, and Charles Town, and Martinsburg, and they’ve failed in every single instance.”
In September, the Fairmont City Council passed Ordinance 482 on second reading by a 7-2 vote to include new language protecting the LGBTQ community. Schneider said the scope of the protection is extremely limited, but a symbolic gesture that the City of Fairmont believes in non-discrimination. It also provides a body for potential discrimination situations to be discussed, and is considered primarily an “educational commission.” Opponents, who have been very vocal, thoroughly disagreed — suggesting the ordinance would create situations that legally allow “men into women’s public accommodations.”
“It tries to scare people about transgender West Virginians, and it tries to turn them into these monsters,” Schneider said. “It’s really a horrible, nasty type of attack.”
The night Ordinance 482 passed, 51 out of 86 people spoke against the ordinance. Since then, the organization Keep Fairmont Safe has gathered 2,500 signatures in an attempt to force a city-wide referendum on Ordinance 482.
“They’ve turned this ordinance into something that it’s not,” Schneider said. “That’s unfair to the voting public. It’s unfair to the people that they persuaded to sign the petition. And it’s, quite frankly, dishonest.”
Schneider said this would be the first time any ordinance his organization has supported relating to LGBTQ rights and protections would face a referendum by an electorate.
“[Family Policy Council] have not been able yet to defeat one city council member who voted for this non-discrimination ordinance,” Schneider said.
The Family Policy Council, a conservative religious group that advocates for religious freedom, has been a consultant body for Keep Fairmont Safe, the organization that acquired the 2,500 signatures. Those signatures were submitted them for approval Wednesday morning. 1,985 of those signatures need to be valid, registered voters within the Fairmont city limits to move the process of a referendum forward.
“This is not a foregone conclusion that this is going to come up on the ballot,” Schneider said. “There is still a verification process that has to take place.”
Whatever the outcome of that verification process, Schneider said he’s ready to engage the electorate in a discussion on the ordinance — what it is and what it is not.
“They are making a big deal about which bathrooms transgender people can use,” Schneider said. “And currently, a transgender person or a transgender West Virginian even can use whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate. There is no law barring them from doing so.”
This ordinance, Schneider said, doesn’t change that protection one way or the other. North Carolina remains the only state in the nation with specific laws governing bathroom use by transgender citizens, he said.
“That’s how ridiculous this is,” Schneider said. “They are taking a particular municipal ordinance, and they are slapping on the label of ‘bathroom bill’ and getting people fired up over it for really awful reasons.”
Schneider also labeled an accusation at Keep Fairmont Safe and West Virginia Family Policy Council — claiming that they would have “riled up the same number of people” no matter what the ordinance actually said.
“That’s dangerous,” he said. “That’s really dangerous because it’s going to throw good public policy on its head.”
Schneider’s past experiences, he said, lead him to believe the Human Rights Commission will survive a referendum.
“This is going to be an extra hurdle that they are putting everyone through, but in the end I believe the voters support this,” he said. “And that has already been reflected in the fact that city council members in other municipalities with these laws end up being re-elected.”
Keep Fairmont Safe has also expressed an intention to gather signatures, with no time frame required, to force a recall vote on the seven sitting City Council members who voted for Ordinance 482 on September 13.
Four of them, including Mayor Thomas Mainella (District 8), are up for re-election next year.
Allen Whitt of the West Virginia Family Policy Council told WAJR earlier Wednesday that he had conducted an unofficial poll, though he did not reveal his source of data, claiming 62 percent of the people of Fairmont would vote the ordinance down.