By Peggy Mackenzie
A nondiscrimination ordinance on the agenda of the Lewisburg’s city council drew a crowd of approximately 230 people to line up outside city hall Tuesday night. People with very different views began gathering around 5 p.m. for the 7:30 meeting in hopes of gaining a seat inside the council chambers to either protest or salute the passage of the ordinance.
The ordinance in question expands the city’s current nondiscrimination policy to include prohibition of discrimination in the areas of employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and leaves in place protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status.
Since the West Virginia State legislature has repeatedly failed to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the WV Human Rights Act, municipalities within the state have taken the issue upon themselves to “do the right thing,” and protect their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents from harmful and unfair discrimination. The Lewisburg nondiscrimination ordinance can be found online at lewisburg-wv.com and at the city’s Facebook page.
The majority of Tuesday night’s crowd included members from local churches, as well as members of anti-LGBT organizations, opposing the ordinance. The pro-ordinance crowd of about 90 people was dominated by mostly young people in their 20s and 30s, who wore blue to show solidarity with nondiscrimination of LGBT people, and also “Fairness” stickers from Fairness West Virginia, a state wide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians.
Once inside, Mayor John Manchester reviewed for the gathering the process of how an ordinance is handled, from the first draft, to legal review, to the perfunctory first reading, to considerations and research of any germane issues, and then finally the second reading and public hearing.
The first reading of an ordinance does not include a public hearing, and although the council chamber was filled to capacity, no one was allowed to comment. Manchester said the public hearing is reserved for the second reading, scheduled for January 19 at 7:30 p.m. Anticipating an even larger crowd on that night, Manchester said he will announce where the meeting will be held so that all attendees can participate in the proceedings.
Council and mayor clarified that the nature of the ordinance is to provide protection for an unprotected class of people. The proposed ordinance was drafted by the mayor after community and council members approached him with the request for protections. The vote on the first reading was five to zero in favor of the ordinance, and was met with applause from the LGBT proponents.
The controversy for the opposing group seems to be centered on the claim that the nondiscrimination ordinance poses a risk to women and children. In a press release from anti-LGBT lobbying group, the Family Policy Council & the Family Policy Institute of West Virginia, “Sexual predators wait for people to get used to a male presence in bathrooms and women’s locker rooms. Then they commit crimes against women and children.”
This claim is known as “the bathroom predator myth.” According to a public statement from Fairness West Virginia, “It is meant to scare the general public into believing transgender people are predators. This unfounded claim distracts from the real discrimination that LGBT people face everyday in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
Nevertheless, there are many on the other side of this issue who feel women are unsafe should a they encounter man in a women’s restroom, no matter whether he is dressed like a woman or a man.
In a written statement found on the city of Lewisburg website, Manchester states, “There are zero instances of sexual assault as a result of a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by six cities and towns in West Virginia since 2007.” More examples of government and law enforcement officials reporting zero evidence that supports the “Bathroom Predator Myth” can be found at http://www.equalitymatters.org/factcheck/201403200001.