“As a conservative Republican & a Christian, I can tell you that it’s past time to add our LGBT+ friends & family to the Human Rights Act.”
These are the words from a tweet by Joshua Higginbotham, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, on January 31, declaring himself the lead sponsor of the current iteration of the West Virginia Fairness Act.
…preventing discrimination in housing, employment, & public accommodations. West Virginia is changing; the Republican Party is changing. It’s time for our laws to reflect that change as well.
— Joshua Higginbotham (@Higginbotham4WV) February 1, 2021
While the previous versions of the bill have died without hearings in their respective sessions, there are hopes that The Fairness Act will pass this time.
An editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail on February 5 explains:
Many West Virginia municipalities have already adopted such policies. They’re not new or strange. It doesn’t provide any special protection for those in the LGBTQ community. It just assures them the same rights everyone else has.
It’s a measure whose time has come. Even with a Republican supermajority in the West Virginia Legislature, Delegate Josh Higginbotham, R-Putnam, says he’ll take the lead on the bill.
Currently, there are 14 cities in the Mountain State to pass local fairness ordinances: Athens, Beckley, Charles Town, Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Huntington, Keyser, Lewisburg, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Shepherdstown, Sutton, Thurmond, and Wheeling.
Yet, as expected, there are those that oppose the bill. One of those is Higginbotham’s colleague in the West Virginia House of Delegates, John Mandt Jr. In a statement on his Facebook page, Mandt claims:
There is nothing fair about it (The Fairness Act).
It falsely claims to be a civil rights bill about fairness in employment and housing. But instead it’s nothing more than a wrongful appropriation of the civil rights movement to force a behavioral pattern into a legally protected class. To even be discussing this topic during Black History Month does a disservice to those who legitimately fought to correct real discrimination against citizens with immutable traits like race, that they couldn’t change. The thousands of public ex-gays who speak out against the Fairness Act and other similar bills are evidence that sexually-based behavior often changes over time and should not be coded into a political tool that’s primarily used to discriminate against those who hold opposing views.
Even though, Mandt resigned from his seat on the House of Delegates in October 2020 for using anti-gay slurs on a Facebook group, the delegate for Cabell County is set to return to the House of Delegates after winning reelection.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy organization for the state, said in a statement:
“Del. John Mandt continues to brazenly lie about the Fairness Act and LGBTQ people.
Public officials ought to be role models for our state and set a good example for all West Virginians. Words have power, and Del. Mandt’s words only encourage the discrimination and prejudice that LGBTQ people experience on a daily basis.”
The 2021 session of the West Virginia House of Delegates begins on February 10, however, it is unclear when Higginbotham will introduce the Fairness Act.
Rosemary Ketchum, a councilwoman for Wheeling, West Virginia and the first out transgender elected official in West Virginia, explained why the bill is necessary:
“The Fairness Act is critical legislation for the future of our state. Ultimately, this is about whether we are willing to make the social, cultural, and economic progress necessary to compete with the rest of the nation. If we fail to embrace progress that propels our state into the 21st century, we send a message that does not responsibly reflect who we are as West Virginians and what it is we stand for.”
Sources: Fairness West Virginia, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Movement Advancement Project, Delegate John Mandt Jr. Official Facebook Page, The Herald-Dispatch, WSAZ Newschannel 3, WOWK 13 News Official YouTube Channel, Joshua Higginbotham Official Twitter Page