Parkersburg City Council voted down a nondiscrimination ordinance that would have extended protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents during the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday evening.
The 6-3 vote marked the first time a city has put an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance up to a vote, and voted it down, according to Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, an LGBT rights advocacy group.
“For a city that has lost 15,000 residents since 1980, this is not a good omen for its future,” Schneider said in a statement.
The ordinance stated that “Equal opportunity in the areas of employment, public accommodations, and in the sale, lease, rental and financing of housing accommodations are hereby recognized to be a right of all persons without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness, disability, genetic information, familial information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
West Virginia’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on all of those categories except genetic information, familial information, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ten cities in West Virginia have similar resolutions. Five of those passed in 2016. Two cities, Elkins and Morgantown, have enacted resolutions expressing support for the LGBT population. Beckley tabled the issue in 2014.
Parkersburg council members first began considering the issue in March.
“I think this is one of those topics that regardless of what happens, somebody’s going to leave feeling like a slapped ass,” said Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce.
About a dozen to 25 people had spoken at each meeting since, both in opposition to and in support of the ordinance, according to Joyce.
“If the Legislature wants to amend the Human Rights Act, I think that’s an act the Legislature should do,” he said.
“The language is nebulous in its definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity,” he added. “If they’re not really identifiable by anyone else, how are you supposed to abide by the ordinance?”
Council members had heard formal presentations from two groups, Liberty PKB, which opposed the ordinance, and Fairness for Parkersburg, which supported the ordinance.
“The main thing they want is to make their lifestyle more mainstream and use the heavy hand of government to drive Christian people underground,” said Dan Stevens, of Liberty PKB.
Stevens, pastor of the Bible Baptist Church in Parkersburg, said that “regular LGBT people who are not the activists say ‘I just want to live my life. I just want the same protections as everybody else,’ but there are those who use this as a whipping post.”
“Let’s say you run an ice cream shop and a whole group of neo-Nazis comes in,” he said. “Do you think that owner should have the right to say ‘I’m sorry I can’t serve you?’ I would support that business — the right to say no. I’m not equating LGBT people as neo-Nazis. I’m saying the principle of it.”
“We hate the sin, not the sinner,” he said. “Some of my best friends have been homosexuals.”
Jeanne Peters, of Vienna, said she was denied an apartment in Parkersburg in 1998. She became involved with Fairness for Parkersburg, she said, “because it’s the right thing to do,” but found that younger people in the area were supporting the ordinance because they’d had similar experiences.
“I naively thought we’d moved forward from that,” she said. “We hadn’t moved forward. We’re still there.”
She and her wife, Kim Williams, ultimately chose to open their jewelry-buying business in Vienna.
“It had a long-lasting impact on our perception of the city,” she said.
But now, she said, she, Kim, and those younger people all know each other, thanks to their work on the ordinance.
“We are energized,” she said. “We are organized. And we’re not going away.”
Councilmen John Reed and Jeff Fox, and Council President J.R. Carpenter voted for the ordinance. Dave McCrady, Sharon Kuhl, Robert Mercer, Eric Barber, Mike Reynolds, and Zachary Stanley voted against it.