The 2021 session of the West Virginia Legislature began with a promise of making the state more attractive and full of opportunity for its youth and those who might consider relocating here.
What followed over the 60 days of the session was the equivalent of flying a plane across the entire United States tugging a banner reading “West Virginia: Stay out!” From bills to make water less safe to an outright assault on public education to protecting Confederate monuments, the Republican supermajority in the West Virginia Legislature set about trying to provide a firm basis for every negative stereotype about the state.
In his campaign for a second term, Gov. Jim Justice said he would support a bill protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination for employment or housing. Justice won, but that bill didn’t go anywhere in the session.
A bill to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports at public schools, universities and colleges, did pass. And Justice, the supposed proponent of equality, said Wednesday he will either sign the bill or let it become law without his signature.
Now, maybe Justice is thinking, if he vetoes the bill, it’ll just be overridden by the Legislature. The House of Delegates did just clock Justice with a 100-0 vote against an income tax repeal plan he supported after the governor publicly lashed out at its members. But if he really believes in equality and making West Virginia a welcoming place, Justice should at least take a principled stand on this issue.
For starters, the bill addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. There already are governing bodies setting rules on this issue for collegiate and state high school athletics. There’s been no hue and cry by anyone, other than a few legislators, about actual unfair competition from trans athletes. So, the Legislature and Justice are basically engaging in political pandering.
As a supposed business genius, Justice also should recognize that this solution without a problem does create new problems for West Virginia on a couple of levels. It makes the state less attractive to businesses looking for inclusive environments, or young people deciding whether to try and stay in the state or leave. But it also could cost West Virginia when it comes to hosting sporting events that bring people and revenue into the state.
The NCAA has already said it is looking at removing tournaments and championship events from states adopting such laws. Believe it or not, West Virginia is scheduled to host some of those events in the near future, including diving championships next year and a rifle championship in 2025, both at West Virginia University. Justice also should be thinking about youth regional soccer tournaments that bring thousands of competitors and their families from across the mid-Atlantic region to the Huntington and Charleston areas. Who is to say the organizers of those events won’t want to take them elsewhere?
It’s not like the stance from the NCAA is an empty threat, either. The organization pulled college basketball tournament events from North Carolina over the state’s so-called “bathroom bill” a few years ago. The organization nearly pulled the men’s Final Four out of Indianapolis in 2015, before then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence amended a “Religious Freedom” law that was a thinly veiled attempt to allow open discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Sure, there’s no Final Four-type event on the horizon for West Virginia, but legislation like the transgender sports bill basically assures there never will be. The state will never grow until it actually embraces equality, rather than paying it lip service and then doing the exact opposite.