BECKLEY, W.Va. — The city of Beckley is poised to join several other municipalities in West Virginia that have adopted local ordinances protecting residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender self-identity.
City Attorney William File told MetroNews affiliate WJLS he expects a draft of an ordinance to be ready for presentation to Common Council members for a first reading during the next regular public session on Jan. 8. As is the case with most proposed ordinances, a second reading likely will occur at the following public session, which will include the opportunity for public comment, according to File.
“Obviously, there are some in the community that are not going to favor this ordinance. But as far as drafting the ordinance and having an ordinance, that will be (transparent), so that everybody will understand what it says and what the members of council will be voting on. It will be one that will be well-known. There will be no surprises in it,” he said.
File explained that the non-discrimination language within the proposal ultimately will reflect the structure of similar ordinances that have been enacted in other West Virginia cities, such as Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston, Lewisburg, Morgantown, and Martinsburg.
“These communities have moved forward with adopting similar ordinances to provide protection for these additional classes, and there have no repercussions, there have been no issues, no problems, once it was adopted in these other communities. So, we have looked at that carefully, and we feel it is time to move forward and advance the ordinance,” said File.
Beckley city leaders first attempted to deal with the issue in 2014, when a similar measure was discussed, though it was never placed on the council’s agenda for consideration, partly because of objections from residents and religious leaders who argued that the matter was something to be addressed by the West Virginia legislature. File said he believes a majority of his colleagues, this time, will follow the lead of Mayor Robert Rappold, who has expressed unambiguous support for the new proposal.
“He wants the city of Beckley to grow. He wants it to be open to all people. He and I and others that work with him have discussed this matter a number of times, and felt that this was the time to move forward,” he said, noting that four members of the seven-member council have indicated they will vote in favor of enacting the ordinance.
File has been working in consultation with Beckley’s Human Rights Commission attorney Robert Dunlap in the drafting of the ordinance. Administrative leaders at West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Beckley also have expressed support for passage of a measure that would protect LGBTQ students and members of the community against housing and employment discrimination.
Earlier this month, a member of a local LGBTQ advocacy group told council members there had been instances of Beckley residents being harassed, threatened, or physically assaulted because of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender expression.
The Jan. 8 public hearing has been moved from the city government building to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center because of the higher-than-normal attendance that is expected.