The old adage says, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” That would be good counsel for Republican Delegate Eric Porterfield from Mercer County.
The trouble for the freshman delegate began last week during a committee meeting when he spoke in support of an amendment to a bill aimed at nullifying non-discrimination ordinances that address sexual orientation that at least five West Virginia communities have passed.
During the debate Porterfield called Fairmont’s non-discrimination ordinance “a travesty” and claimed that LGBTQ rights organizations are “the most socialist group in this country.” The argument spilled over to the House floor where Democrats called out Porterfield.
Porterfield’s rhetoric got even hotter in an interview with the Charleston Gazette-Mail when he said “The LGBTQ is a modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate.” He likened them to a “terrorist group.”
In an interview with WVVA TV, Porterfield seemed to imply that if he had a son or daughter that was gay, he would teach them a harsh lesson. If it was his daughter, “I would take her for a pedicure, take her to get her nails done, and see if she could swim. If it was my son, I would probably take him hunting, I would take him fishing and I’d see if he could swim.”
When asked by WVVA’s Rachel Anderson what he meant by that, Porterfield said, “I just want to make sure they could swim… I would take them out to do activities.”
What an odd thing to say.
Monday, state Republican Party Chair Melody Potter criticized Porterfield’s comments, calling them hateful and hurtful, adding that they “do not reflect the values of our country, our state, and the Republican Party.”
“We may disagree on policy, politics, and the direction of our state, but we can disagree civilly and respectfully because intolerant and hateful views hold us back, divide us and hurt our state,” Potter said.
A short time later Monday, Porterfield met with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw. The delegate emerged from the meeting as convicted as ever about his views, repeating his claims that members of the LGBTQ are “the closest thing to political terrorists in the country.”
He said he has been the target of hate-filled messages from the gay rights community. “The allegations, the remarks, the intimidation and the threat from the brutal monsters known at the LGBTQ—they are the closest thing to the Ku Klux Klan. They are the modern-day version of the Klan.”
Porterfield is entitled to his opinion, but words have consequences and public figures are held accountable for their views. His comparisons are absurd and deeply insulting to those in the gay community who have suffered discrimination and fought to be treated as equals in their personal and professional lives.
As Chairwoman Potter said, people can disagree about policy, and whether municipalities should create specific protections for homosexuals is a matter of public debate and a policy decision. Name-calling and scary, inflammatory analogies are usually signs of a weak argument.
Porterfield seems to be enjoying all this, even suggesting that the controversy will help him at election time. “I believe my enemies just re-elected me in 2020,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “With their help, I won’t have to campaign as hard next time. Lol.”
There’s nothing funny about this controversy. It’s just sad and disappointing. Porterfield came into this session as a feel-good story because he is only the second legally blind person to be elected to the House of Delegates. You would think he would have more empathy for the LGBTQ community, which faces its own set of obstacles.