Editorial: Remarks strengthen case for broader anti-bias law

February 15, 2019
Delegate Eric Porterfield

A West Virginia lawmaker’s rants against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people last week provided plenty of evidence that a statewide law banning discrimination against people with those gender identities is needed more than ever.

Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, first expressed his views during a Thursday House committee meeting at which the issue of providing anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents of the state came up. He expressed his support for legislation that would have prohibited cities from passing ordinances that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment and housing and nullify such ordinances that cities already have passed. About a dozen have, including Huntington.

When an amendment was offered that would have prohibited such discrimination statewide, Porterfield described it as “bigoted,” “intolerant,” and “discriminatory” and declared that one of the “nonsense” ordinances the cities passed was a “travesty,” according to a report in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Then, the next day in comments made to the Gazette-Mail and other news media, Porterfield declared that “LGBTQ is a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate.” He also called the gay community a “terrorist group.”

Perhaps Porterfield isn’t familiar with the KKK’s doings. In any case, the LBGT community hardly fits the mold of the Ku Klux Klan and its history of murder, terrorism and intimidation.

His remarks were roundly condemned by several Democratic House members and even some of his Republican colleagues, as they should have been. In addition, state GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter issued a statement Monday condemning Porterfield’s remarks. “These comments are unacceptable and we denounce them. They have no place in America.”

But based on how Porterfield doubled down on his early comments, it’s unlikely his views will change. What’s just as troubling is that he called the Gazette-Mail Friday morning to thank the newspaper for its coverage of his remarks in the committee hearing because he believes it will boost his chances for re-election.

If that’s the case, then LGBT people in West Virginia do have reason for concern. It also signals that state lawmakers should quit treating them as second-class citizens. However, although the state’s lawmakers have had the opportunity before to give members of the LGBT community the same protections as everyone else in the state enjoys, they have yet to do so. In a court case that clarified that “sex” as mentioned in the state’s hate-crime law applies only to gender, a defense attorney noted that the Legislature had declined to add sexual orientation to that law 26 times since its 1987 enactment. As noted last year in this same space, that’s a shameful record. And yet, some lawmakers are bent on eliminating municipal laws in the state that do offer those protections.

There is legislation in play that would ban discrimination against LGBT folks in West Virginia, and that’s the kind of bill that should be enacted into law, particularly when so many of the state’s legislative leaders say they want to attract people to live in the Mountain State.

Spewing the kind of hate coming from Porterfield will do just the opposite.