CHARLESTON, W.Va. — City leaders in West Virginia say more needs to be done at the state level to protect LGBTQ residents from discrimination.
“I believe the entire state needs to have a non-discrimination ordinance, but I do believe that municipalities should have the right to self-governance,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said during an announcement of annual equality scores in West Virginia.
The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released this year’s scores from its Municipal Equality Index.
The index examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work in cities across the country. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ equality.
No matter where you live, we are working to improve the laws and policies in your area.
To make cities more inclusive.
To ensure we’re welcome everywhere.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) November 18, 2021
Cities are scored on a scale of 0-100. Cities who receive a score of 85 or more receive the designation of “All Stars.” Three West Virginia cities received that status this year including Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown.
Huntington and Morgantown each received perfect scores of 100. Charleston received a score of 94.
Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin said they are working to advance equality.
“The City of Morgantown is a welcoming place where everyone is valued,” Selin said. “We’ve worked over the years on anti-discrimination and housing and in the work place.”
One effort in particular in Morgantown was the ban conversion therapy, following a similar move by Charleston this year.
Selin said the practice will protect future generations.
“All of our children, including our LGBTQ children, and their friends deserve the chance to grow up in a community that supports them,” she said.
This is the third year in a row that Huntington has received a perfect score, the first to reach 100 in the state.
In 2014, Huntington’s score was just 45. Williams said he knew at that moment, the city needed to do more.
“I was shocked and ashamed,” he said. “I knew that that score was not a true indicator of the hearts of the people of Huntington, but it was certainly an indicator of how the municipal governing body within the city wasn’t responding to the needs of the community.”
Huntington launched an “Open to All” campaign that promotes diversity and acceptance of all people across the city. Businesses, churches, institutions, individuals and other groups can put stickers on their doors, indicating the place is welcome to all.
“That Open to All now has 300 members throughout the community,” Williams said.
Other West Virginia cities were scored including Wheeling with 59, Lewisburg and Charles Town with 45 and Parkersburg with 13.
The average score for cities in West Virginia is 65, which falls two below the national average of 67.
“In West Virginia, we believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s why so many of our communities have stepped up to the challenge to advance LGBTQ equality in new and exciting ways,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, in a statement.
Fairness WV said there are currently 21 states that have anti-discrimination laws in place, including neighboring Virginia.
The Fairness Act, SB 270, was introduced last year, but didn’t make it out of the West Virginia Senate.
This year, a record-breaking 110 cities earned the highest score of 100, which is up from 11 in 2012, the MEI’s inaugural year.