West Virginia is my home, but it is not where I reside.
The United States Supreme Court recently heard cases regarding LGBTQ workplace discrimination, and it resonated personally. I left my home state in 2012 for myriad reasons — one of which was my fear of harassment and discrimination
My roots are deep in West Virginia. I am the grandson of a coal miner and son of a minister. My family continues to operate a cattle farm in a small town outside of Morgantown. After graduating from Preston High School as class president, I attended college at the University of Charleston, studying public policy and business administration. During the second year of my studies, I came out as a gay man.
In the past decade, my coming out experience has been similar to many. I struggled to come to terms with my identity, which was made even more difficult by bullies and harsh comments from friends and strangers alike. As a person of faith, I have been on a journey of encountering the incredible depths of God’s love. While our theological differences are often the root of division on this issue, God is love, and the decision about what to do with or how to treat LGBTQ people should stop there. It should stop with love — loving self and loving others.
For every hardship, I can match it with monumental support. I was fortunate to have access to health insurance for counseling services and other resources. While some refuse to reconcile their own acceptance of me, I have encountered many others along the way that love me just the way I am. And my story has changed minds, hearts and lives.
Despite the available resources and support, I knew that if I were to truly thrive, I would need to leave West Virginia — which broke my heart. But the fact of the matter is, West Virginia does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in place. The social fabric of the state did not feel safe for me.
I feel fortunate to have found a home in Baltimore. Serving as the director of community health for a large integrated hospital system, I am rewarded daily by our efforts to address community health needs. I am entrusted to respond to our nation’s opioid epidemic, change systems to address housing and food insecurity, and eradicate obesity and chronic disease. I will soon be finishing my doctorate in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
I am always mindful of others that may not have the opportunity or courage to move. My hope would be that no other LGBTQ person should leave their loved ones and home state because they are afraid of discrimination.
Advocacy and policy changes are important, but not just because they change the laws on the books. The process of passing a nondiscrimination bill provides the potential to change the hearts and minds of people as they get to know their LGBTQ neighbors better.
That is why the state’s lawmakers must pass the Fairness Act, a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations across West Virginia.
And by doing so, West Virginia’s country roads will take many more people home — for good.