MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Morgantown City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance amending the Human Rights Commission to include language protecting veterans, family status, gender, and sexual orientation Tuesday night.
“Currently, city and town non-discrimination ordinances are basically for the local communities in West Virginia the only means of protecting their LGBT residents from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” Executive Director Andrew Schneider of Fairness West Virginia said Tuesday at the public hearing.
A packed hall and overflow chamber set the scene as supporters and opponents stood on line in preparation to speaking during the public hearing portion.
“There is no federal law that protects the LGBT from discrimination,” Schneider said. “There is no state law that protects the LGBT community from discrimination. So, unfortunately, it’s fallen to the shoulders of local municipalities to do what both the state and federal government should have done long ago.”
The ordinance, as adopted, expands the scope of the current commission to provide rulings and opinions on discriminatory complaints, but does not have subpoena power or the ability to level punitive measures. Unofficially, 33 people spoke in favor of the ordinance. Five spoke against.
“Sadly, I have seen many examples of LGBT discrimination in this state,” Schneider said.
That discrimination, he said, has included men and women fired from work for their sexual orientation. He also said housing “mysteriously disappears” when prospective tenants reveal to landlords that they are part of the LGBTQ community.
“We’ve seen problem with transgender West Virginians finding access to health care in this state,” Schneider said. “There are countless examples of discrimination that need to be resolved and rectified. And the only way that we have to do so now is by getting these municipalities to adopt these non-discrimination laws.”
The night wasn’t without controversy, as multiple witnesses said a small scuffle ensued before the meeting began between one man believed to be the Family Policy Council Executive Director Allen Whitt and another unidentified person outside of council chambers. It’s unclear what led to the scuffle, but police were called to the scene. Council chambers were then cleared momentarily before the meeting was called to order. Whitt then spoke publicly against the ordinance following the alleged incident.
“The three largest cities in the state will have these non-discrimination protections,” Schneider said. “That will send a strong message to lawmakers at the Capitol in Charleston that this is what West Virginians overwhelmingly desire and need and demand.”
The support from public speakers, which included several school children and their teacher, was overwhelmingly for the ordinance. However, several speakers felt the language of the ordinance was “Constitutionally vague.”
“I see all these wonderful people here, and I see all anger and vitriol instead of love for one another,” Penny Phillips, a local preacher. said. “Instead of trying to figure out how to work it, how to be the best that we can be, and you’re all wonderful people. And it makes me sad.
This was the ordinance’s second and final reading. Morgantown becomes the fourth city to adopt a full non-discrimination clause with language protecting the LGBTQ community.