WV lawmakers let LGBTQ equality bills die without hearings

Charleston, W.Va. — Republican leaders in the West Virginia Legislature have once again caved to anti-gay extremists who have worked tirelessly to block a vote on the Fairness Act, a bill to ensure no LGBTQ person is discriminated against

These leaders refused to even bring this bipartisan bill up for discussion in committee despite an unprecedented level of grassroots support and an early commitment from Senate President Mitch Carmichael to have a “substantive” discussion about fairness.

“The people of West Virginia are tired of waiting for these leaders to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “Our community has asked for these basic protections for decades, and our leaders keep telling us no. No person should be fired, evicted or denied service in a public space because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Period.”

Wednesday was the final day to pass a bill out of one chamber in order for it to be considered in the other chamber. Neither the House of Delegates or the state Senate allowed a vote on the Fairness Act.

Fairness West Virginia plans to redouble its efforts to bring equality to the Mountain State in 2021. The organization — the state’s only civil rights advocacy group advancing LGBTQ equality — will continue to educate members of the Legislature about the discrimination LGBTQ people face every day as a result of their failure to act.

“Our community is hurting today, but LGBTQ people in West Virginia are resilient,” Schneider said. “We love this state and many of us want to stay here, but our leaders need to finally step up and pass the Fairness Act. We have endured decades of discrimination and harassment, and we will come back to the capitol in 2021 stronger than ever.”

A group of more than 100 faith leaders from across West Virginia joined a coalition to endorse the Fairness Act earlier this year, and two weeks later, more than 500 Christians across that state signed onto a letter urging Senate leadership to run the bill.

In December, Senate President Carmichael joined faith and business leaders for a roundtable discussion in support of the Fairness Act. And yet, on the second day of the legislative session, Carmichael let a fringe group of anti-LGBTQ pastors scare him out of letting the bill move forward.

Lawmakers also failed to adopt the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, a bill to protect minors from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. Sometimes called “anti-gay therapy” or “reparative therapy,” this practice usually operates underground and with little to no oversight. Practitioners of conversion therapy use extreme and sometimes abusive methods in hopes of changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“No child should have to suffer like this,” Schneider said. “The Youth Mental Health Protection Act would allow the state to revoke a license from medical professionals who engage in this dangerous practice.”

Lawmakers also failed to adopt Angel’s Law, a bill named for the 2017 victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. Angel Harless, a lesbian, was harassed with homophobic slurs then beaten unconscious with a beer bottle outside of a Charleston bar. Angel’s Law would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the existing hate crimes law.

Angel’s Law would also stress restorative justice, which allows a judge to sentence a perpetrator to work within the community they have wronged in lieu of additional jail time.

“The facts are clear: LGBTQ people are the most likely group to be the targets of hate crimes,” Schneider said. “Hate crimes don’t just affect the victim, but also instill fear in the entire LGBTQ community.”

Angel’s Law and the Youth Mental Health Protection Act both died Wednesday.

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