CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On “All Kinds Are Welcome Here” Day, the House of Delegates got into an emotional fight about discrimination.
The floor fight fell along fault lines involving race, sexuality, political party, urban and rural representation and the authorities of state and local government.
“It’s shameful, absolutely shameful that we got into such a heated debate over an issue that our children can’t understand why we fight about,” said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion.
“You wanna move West Virginia forward but you wanna tell someone you can’t protect ’em because of who they love? I call a big B.S. on that. That’s what it is. It’s hate. It’s hate. It’s hate. If anybody thinks any differently they’re only kidding themselves.”
The clash had its roots the prior day, during a Government Organization Committee meeting. The committee was discussing a bill meant to deal with municipal annexation by minor boundary adjustment.
An amendment would have addressed “regulations and requirements adding protected classes not stipulated in state code.”
In committee, Caputo asked whether the amendment was meant to stop anti-discrimination ordinances.
West Virginia cities such as Martinsburg, Beckley, Fairmont, Wheeling and Morgantown have passed non-discrimination ordinances that address sexual orientation. Those go beyond what’s in state law.
House committee meetings are livestreamed but not publicly archived. House Democrats posted audio on their Facebook page. It is here.
Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, gave long and impassioned remarks in favor of the amendment.
“I wanted to say it was one of the most divisive issues I ever saw in Beckley, and I watched people’s rights be trampled over consistently to push a certain behavior,” Porterfield said.
“It is true that to not pass this amendment would be discriminating against people who have either religious convictions or who don’t want to run their business the way a socialist-left agenda wants us to run it.”
He also called Fairmont’s ordinance “a travesty.” Porterfield said local nondiscrimination ordinances run contrary to the First Amendment. He then called those who advocate for LGBTQ rights “the most socialist group in this country.”
Porterfield referenced Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right public speaker who is gay. West Virginia University allowed Yiannopoulos to speak there in 2016, but issued a statement countering his message. Other colleges have banned him from speaking.
“This is the name of his tour. This was not what I named his tour. But he was on what he referred to as ‘The Dangerous F…… Tour,’ and the LGBT stormed that building and did $200,000 worth of damage because he didn’t line up with their ideology,” Porterfield said in committee, using a pejorative term.
Caputo called point of order, and committee Chairman Gary Howell instructed Porterfield to settle down.
There was another flareup when Porterfield continued by saying, “We cannot allow discriminatory bigots to determine how our citizens are going to live.”
Howell hit the gavel and said, “To the gentleman, watch what you call people.”
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, spoke out against the amendment, describing what her gay son goes through. Walker repeated the term Porterfield had used earlier but in a different way.
She spoke of labels used to describe gay people: “You call them butch. You call them f…… You call them creatures. You call them a disgrace of God. You call them demons. You call them the devil.
“Well, guess what I call them. Love. Guess what I call them. Future leaders. Guess what I call them. Future doctors.Guess what I call them. Future activists. Guess what I call them. Advocates. Most importantly, I call him son.”
The amendment wound up being defeated 12-10 in committee, with Republican delegates Joe Jeffries, Eric Nelson and Tony Paynter voting with the Democrats.
The debate flared back up on the House floor on Thursday.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, made a motion to immediately bring to the floor a separate bill that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the categories covered by the state Human Rights Act. He referenced the pejorative term that was used in committee.
Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, made a motion to table Fluharty’s motion, and hers passed.
The debate went on from there.
Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, stood and contended that nothing about the amendment that had been discussed in committee was discriminatory.
“The substance of the amendment said simply that no city or county or any other body in this state could make a protected class that was not already within federal and state law,” he said.
“That’s all that amendment tried to do was ensure that no one, no county out there, no city, could create a law on their own that was counter to West Virginia law and federal law.”
That set off a cascade of comments, particularly from Democrats who were upset about what had happened.
“I rise because it seems like we have a crisis of character in this chamber,” said Delegate Sammi Brown, D-Jefferson.
“We did hear these comments that actually were very much bigoted. As someone who fought for those non-discrimination ordinances in the Eastern Panhandle, I will tell you to rescind those is absolutely regressive.”
Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, rose and said that although he loves the state he is sometimes discouraged.
“I feel really moved right now,” Hornbuckle said, referring to earlier speeches that were made.
“It is increasingly tough to live and walk in these shoes. It is even tougher, even though I love these mountains, to do it in this state.”
Delegate Caputo stood and made a speech echoing some of the remarks he had made the prior day in committee.
“When I feel hate is being spread across West Virginia it kind of moves me in a way I don’t like to be moved,” Caputo said. “I rarely get emotionally charged when things tug at my heartstring like it did yesterday.
“I actually sat in my hotel room last night, and I never left. I teared up every time I thought about what went on in that committee. I was probably as angry as I have ever been in the House of Delegates.”
That’s not how Delegate Porterfield was feeling.
Just a few hours after all that was said on the House floor, Porterfield wrote on his Facebook page that he was happy.