Williams joins in advocating for LGBT nondiscrimination bill

February 19, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has joined 11 other West Virginia mayors calling for state lawmakers to take up a bill that would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination.

The mayors sent a letter to State Senate leadership urging movement on Senate Bill 391, which would ban discrimination from employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the bill isn’t taken up by Wednesday, it will die.

The 12 mayors all hail from cities that have passed their own LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.

“These ordinances have not harmed commerce as some detractors might assert. To the contrary, they have fostered an inclusive and vibrant business environment,” the letter states. “They have helped us to market ourselves to job creators as modern, forward-looking communities that are open to all.”

The mayors said religious freedom has not suffered since passage of the local ordinances and they are proud of their cities’ diversity of religious thought and expression. They said the ordinances are creating communities young people want to live in.

“We can all agree that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. No one wants to be evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs, or refused service at a business simply because of who they are,” the letter states. “Our communities have led the way on this issue, but together we only represent about 11 percent of the state’s total population.”

In addition to Williams, the letter is also signed by mayors Amy Goodwin (Charleston); Robert Rappold (Beckley); Bill Kawecki (Morgantown); George Karos (Martinsburg); Jim Auxer (Shepherdstown); Scott Rogers (Charles Town); Wayne Bishop (Harpers Ferry); J.L. Campbell (Sutton); John Manchester (Lewisburg); Glen Elliot (Wheeling); and Melanie Dragan (Thurmond).

The Senate bill is supported by LGBT rights organization, Fairness West Virginia, which urged its members to call and email Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s office.

“Senate President Carmichael and his leadership team support many of our causes,” said Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider in a news release. “The problem is that we are not a top priority for them. We need them to see that there is broad support for SB 391.”

Huntington passed its citywide nondiscrimination ordinance in 2013. The city also

launched an Open to All campaign in 2016, asking businesses and organizations to sign a campaign pledge and place a sticker in their windows identifying them as a place that does not discriminate. The campaign recently reached its 100th member milestone.

The Human Rights Campaign has given Huntington an “All Star” ranking on its Municipal Equality Index, making it one of only 41 cities in the nation to receive the designation. The index gives cities a score out of 100 for ordinances and programs that advance LGBTQ equality without relying on state laws.

Huntington has a score of 95, the highest score among six other West Virginia cities included in the rankings.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.