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Ryan McFarland

Ryan McFarland

This year, the conversation around federal nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has reached an all-time fever pitch, with Republicans and Democrats alike bringing legislation to the table.

As a young Republican, I’m grateful to see the bipartisan appetite to tackle this issue, and I know the conversation couldn’t be more welcome here in West Virginia. In West Virginia, and in many other states, LGBTQ people are left vulnerable to discrimination in a wide range of areas, from housing to public spaces to health care. And the fastest way to address this failing is to pass the Equality Act, federal legislation that would deliver clear, consistent protections for all LGBTQ people in every state.

As the co-chairman of the West Virginia Federation of College Republicans, I believe everyone should have the freedom and opportunity to work hard, earn a living and provide for their families.

That’s the vision I strive toward in my work to elect leaders who can champion the Republican principles of limited government and personal responsibility.

At the heart of my conservative Republican values — and my values as a proud American — is a commitment to liberty for all. And West Virginia’s lack of protections is hurting our state and encumbering that liberty for our residents.

It’s also putting West Virginia at a clear economic disadvantage. A report released this year from the Williams Institute at UCLA underlined that West Virginia’s lack of protections has a major impact on businesses’ ability to recruit and retain employees. The absence of inclusive policies makes LGBTQ employees feel less loyal to their employers and more likely to leave their jobs or search for other employment.

Many of my peers — college-educated folks who are often not LGBTQ themselves — prefer to work for businesses with a history of supporting LGBTQ people in states with LGBTQ-supportive laws. If people continue to think of West Virginia as a state at odds with LGBTQ people, we’ll continue to be a victim of the brain drain that has plagued us for so long. I’ve seen again and again how my classmates have been attracted to attend universities in West Virginia, only to leave after graduation and find jobs elsewhere.

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The sad reality is that mistreatment is not an uncommon experience for the nearly 70,000 LGBTQ people who call West Virginia home. In a study conducted by Fairness West Virginia, 44% of transgender and nonbinary respondents said they had experienced discrimination from health care providers, and young people report high levels of verbal or physical harassment because of anti-LGBTQ bullying.

No one should have to endure that where they live. As a proud conservative, I believe that freedom means freedom for everyone — including LGBTQ West Virginians. LGBTQ people should be able to build a life for themselves and participate in society fully.

It’s well past time that we all come together to get this done.

The fastest and most realistic path toward a more inclusive future for West Virginia is through the passage of federal protections for LGBTQ people. And that’s where Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., come in. We need them to once again set a courageous example for bipartisan action by coming together to get the Equality Act across the finish line.

A federal law that gets all Americans on the same page would benefit everyone. Under such a law, LGBTQ workers could rest easier knowing that they are protected from discrimination and that they don’t need to relocate to other states just for this peace of mind. My classmates, and other West Virginia college students, would be more likely to look for jobs here in the Mountain State. And we’d all have clarity with a uniform, comprehensive law.

It’s time for Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between to work toward a future where all LGBTQ Americans are protected from discrimination. By striving toward this goal, we’ll make our country stronger, preserve liberty for all and give every LGBTQ person a fair shot at the American dream.

Ryan McFarland is co-chairman of the West Virginia Federation of College Republicans.

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