Charleston’s LGBTQ Working Group outlined its long-term goals for the coming months during its regular meeting Tuesday, including passing a city ordinance to ban conversion therapy and pushing for more community outreach. The group divided its work primarily into four areas: city ordinances, inclusive city employment, inclusive city services and community outreach.
For city ordinances, the team identified the need for anti-bullying measures for LGBTQ youth, updating existing non-discrimination ordinances and banning conversion therapy — the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual identity using psychological or other means.
The psychology and medical communities have strongly warned against conversion therapy, as it has not proven to be successful and can cause lifelong mental health conditions for LGBTQ youth.
Jake Jarvis, the working group’s chairperson, said by phone Wednesday that some people might not see a need for banning conversion therapy because they don’t see it happening, but he said it’s a practice that’s not meant to be seen in the public light.
“It’s a very underground practice, so folks aren’t really advertising for it. You can’t really Google conversion therapy near me … that’s not how it operates. It operates behind closed doors,” Jarvis said. “When folks say ‘well we don’t have a conversion therapy problem,’ they may be right, but because it’s so underground, it’s difficult for us to know for sure.”
No municipalities in West Virginia currently have a ban on conversion therapy, Jarvis said. Twenty states have passed bans on the practice as well as 70 cities and counties in states that don’t have a blanket law, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“There is such serious consequences for going through conversion therapy,” Jarvis said. “It’s important for our city and the state of West Virginia to recognize that this is a problem that can lead to long-term depression, to suicide, to increased rates of anxiety, to an overall decrease of well-being.”
The group is also prioritizing a push for training sessions for city employees on LGBTQ issues, including discrimination and workplace hostility.
“LGBTQ people work in our community … and in order for LGBTQ people to really thrive we need to be able to exist in the workplace without fear of discrimination,” Jarvis said. “We need to be supportive if folks come out as transgender and go to transition; they need to be supported in that process and it’s not just enough for folks at the top to understand and respect LGBTQ people.”
Jarvis said the City of Charleston has traditionally had compassion for the community, but there is always room for improvement.
“We need to create an inclusive culture among everyone in the workforce, because if you go to work and your bosses are super supportive, but you have that one coworker who misgenders you and makes snide comments,” he said. “That can create a toxic work environment and a hostile work environment that makes it difficult for you to do your best job.”
Charleston has long been the leader on advancing LGBTQ protections in West Virginia, which Jarvis said adds importance to the issues the working group wants to advance. It was the first city in the state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in August 2007, which prevented housing and employment discrimination against people because of their sexual identity.
Jarvis said when Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin created the working group in May 2019, it signaled to the LGBTQ community in Charleston that the city has their backs on the important community issues. Now, Jarvis said, the working group must do a better job of connecting the city’s LGBTQ community to services and communicating their needs.
“[Goodwin] put a group together to say ‘I want to hear about this community. I want your issues to be at the forefront. I want to listen to you,’” he said. “Not everyone does that.”
The working group meets every other month, and information on the group can be found on the City of Charleston’s website.