Being LGBTQ in any rural setting can be difficult. This is especially true for LGBTQ West Virginians. In a study released by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Law Williams Institute called The Impact of Stigma and Discrimination Against LGBT People in West Virginia, it is revealed how discriminatory laws are costing the state over $50 million a year.
According to the study, it is estimated that West Virginia is home to around 57,800 LGBT adults and 10,300 LGBT youth. In a chart (below) from the study’s executive summary, West Virginia is shown to be the lowest-ranked state in social acceptance of LGBT people.
One of the prevailing reasons for this is that West Virginia is one of 27 states without any legal protections for LGBT people.
The lack of these protections can contribute to an environment where LGBT people experience stigma and discrimination which can take the form of workplace discrimination and harassment, bullying in school, LGBT youth rejected by family, and violence.
The study details how the lack of support for LGBT individuals working in West Virginia can have a negative impact on the economy. The report explains:
Research shows that LGBT workers in unsupportive environments are less likely to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work, more likely to be distracted on the job, and less likely to be committed to staying with their current employer, compared to LGBT employees at supportive workplaces. Moreover, LGBT and non-LGBT workers living outside a state that they perceive to be unsupportive may be less likely to accept job offers from employers in that state.
Some key findings from the study include:
- In response to a 2016 poll, 52% of West Virginia residents, both LGBT and non-LGBT, said that they thought that gay and lesbian people experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S.,4 and 58% of West Virginia residents said that they thought that transgender people experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S.
- A 2016 Campus Quality of Life survey of students at West Virginia University found that 27% of students thought that people on campus were generally unfriendly towards transgender people and that 19% similarly thought that people on campus were generally unfriendly toward gay and lesbian people.
- Stigma and discrimination against LGBT workers can lead to economic instability, including lower wages and higher rates of poverty.
- Research indicates that stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBT adults such as major depressive disorder, binge drinking, substance use, and suicidality. Similarly, bullying and family rejection, as well as social stigma more broadly, have been linked to the increased likelihood of dropping out of school, suicide, and substance use among LGBT youth.
The study also details some examples of documented cases of LGBT discrimination in West Virginia:
- In 2019, a transgender man alleged that the manager of a gym in Morgantown blocked his path to the exit after he completed his workout, stating that she had been watching him use the restroom at the gym over a period of time, and demanded to see a state ID showing that he was legally male.
- In 2018, a state judge in West Virginia refused to solemnize marriages of same-sex couples in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, extending marriage equality nationwide. Rather than accept a sanction for violating the law as a public official, the judge chose to stop performing all marriages.
- In 2014, a same-sex couple was harassed by a deputy clerk at a West Virginia courthouse when they tried to obtain a marriage license. The clerk told the couple they were an “abomination”, and that God would “deal” with them. Another clerk told the couple shouted that it was their “religious right” to harass the couple. The couple filed a lawsuit against the clerk’s office and received a $10,000 settlement.
The study’s conclusion states, concerning West Virginia’s negative impact on LGBT individuals, “If West Virginia were to take steps toward a more supportive legal landscape, the state’s economy would likely benefit.” If the Fairness Act of West Virginia, which is set to be introduced again in the state’s House of Delegates with Delegate Joshua Higginbotham as the lead sponsor, is successful, it could be a step in the right direction for West Virginia and the LGBTQ community of the state. Meanwhile, the West Virginia Senate recently introduced a bill to amend the state’s Human Rights Act’ and ‘Fair Housing Act’ to protect LGBTQ West Virginians from workplace and housing discrimination.
To read more on this study, visit the page on The Impact of Stigma and Discrimination Against LGBT People in West Virginia.