Legislative Leaders Allow Equality Bill to Die Without a Vote

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Feb. 26, 2019 | Contact Billy Wolfe billy@fairnesswv.org | www.fairnesswv.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republican leaders in the state Legislature have caved to anti-gay extremists in their party and allowed a bill barring LGBTQ discrimination to die without a vote, despite strong support for the measure across party lines.

This is the latest failure by state lawmakers in more than two decades to take up legislation protecting all West Virginia from discrimination.

“Make no mistake. Our nondiscrimination bill would pass both chambers if allowed to come up for a vote,” said Andrew Schneider, Fairness West Virginia executive director. “Unfortunately, a handful of anti-equality lawmakers continue to keep the majority from having a say.

“Republicans in both chambers have tried to distance themselves from the flamboyantly hateful Delegate Eric Porterfield, who has compared the LGBTQ community to the Ku Klux Klan and even suggested that he might drown his own children if they came out to him,” Schneider continued. “But actions speak louder than words. At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be much light between Porterfield’s words and the actions of Republican Party leadership.

“Members of the LGBTQ community remain second-class West Virginians as a result of this decision to put us off for yet another year. We remain at risk of losing our homes and our jobs simply because of who we are.”

Schneider said the move is counter to the party’s official platform, which calls for “expanding opportunity to promote prosperity.”

“Ninety-one percent of the Fortune 500 have LGBTQ-inclusive policies because the most successful businesses know that an inclusive workplace is essential to attracting the best and brightest. If Republicans continue to claim they are supportive of attracting business to the state, then why do they continue to kill a bill that would show we are a state that is open to all who want to live, work and raise a family here?”

In the House of Delegates, a record 36 cosponsors signed onto the nondiscrimination bill. That’s well over one-third of the entire House not just in support but sponsoring the legislation. A majority of delegates also said they would vote for the measure if it came to the floor.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, was the lead sponsor of the nondiscrimination bill (the only Republican majority leader in the country to be a lead sponsor of an LGBTQ equality bill), but even his support couldn’t get the bill on the Judiciary Committee agenda.

All across West Virginia, people stepped up and spoke out, and Fairness West Virginia thanks all of the bill’s supporters.

Mayors, ministers, business owners, and countless state residents called, wrote and emailed to ask that these bills finally be given a vote. In the end, it was a handful of staunchly anti-gay voices in the Republican Party who were listened to over all others.

Schneider said it’s more important than ever that cities and towns continue to step up and pass nondiscrimination for their LGBT residents.

“We just saw a resounding victory in Beckley, a very conservative city that had previously voted to table equality,” he said. “This shows that nondiscrimination can be embraced anywhere. We stand ready and willing to work with municipal leaders who want to make their communities truly inclusive.

Sam Williams, a gay man who left West Virginia three years ago after repeated harassment and on-the-job discrimination at the coal mine where he worked, called the failure of the nondiscrimination bill depressing. He said the news of Porterfield’s reprehensible comments has been a topic of discussion among his friends.

“Where I live in Florida now, there are a lot of West Virginia expats, a lot of gay West Virginia expats, and it hurts to say that West Virginia is a laughing stock down here. The state is one of very few that continues to lose people, and yet the lawmakers continue to tell people they aren’t welcome there?” he said.