The flag of West Virginia hangs motionless in the state Senate chamber during the 2021 legislative session.

The flag of West Virginia hangs motionless in the state Senate chamber during the 2021 legislative session.

Dear Editor:

Each year in the West Virginia legislature, a number of discriminatory bills are proposed against entire segments of the state’s citizenry. WV has seen a steady decline in the overall population, losing nearly seven percent over the last forty years. Why, then, are legislators trying to decrease the population even more by discriminating against the nearly 58,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) adults and 10,000+ LGBTQ youth? With an already struggling economy, it is quite telling that legislators continue to propose bills that make it difficult for LGBTQ West Virginians to meet their basic needs. This leads many to flee to other states for better opportunities and outcomes. 

A new report by the Williams Institute highlights the far-reaching impacts of discrimination against LGBTQ West Virginians, including economic instability and health disparities. According to the report, public and private employers risk losing thousands of dollars for each LGBTQ employee who leaves the state. With few incentives for LGBTQ people to come to WV for employment and plenty of reasons to leave, WV will experience repercussions for failing to be as welcoming as it claims. We have seen this play out in other states, like North Carolina, where discriminatory laws resulted in significant loss of revenue amidst the backlash. 

How do these proposed bills discriminate against LGBTQ West Virginians? 

  • SB 13 would allow Child Welfare Services Workers and secondary providers to discriminate against LGBTQ children and families in foster care.

  • SB 341 would prohibit transgender and intersex athletes from participating in official or unofficial school-sanctioned athletic or sporting events, including the collegiate level.

  • HB 2141 would prohibit transgender athletes from participating in official or unofficial  school-sanctioned athletic or sporting events at publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools, AND would require athletes born intersex to undergo invasive genetic testing to be considered for participation.

  • HB 2157 would ban the teaching of (or displays relating to) sexuality in public schools. 

  • HB 2171 would make it a felony for a doctor to provide gender-affirming healthcare to transgender minors which removes parental choice in their child’s medical care, and further punish doctors with a period of incarceration.

  • HB 2232 would pave the way for the nullification of local fairness laws that have been enacted throughout WV (which includes 14 locales at present).  

  • HB 2545, the “West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” aims to frustrate passage and enforcement of LGBTQ non-discrimination laws in West Virginia; to allow people to claim religious grounds for discriminating against LGBTQ people; and to shield people who discriminate on that basis from compliance requirements and penalties for non-compliance.

We urge you to contact your lawmakers and ask them to vote NO on the above proposed legislation. The more the government of West Virginia discriminates, the more the people of West Virginia lose. 

What if West Virginia was more welcoming to LGBTQ people? Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies provide non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ individuals. If WV is supportive of LGBTQ workers, we could more easily attract corporations and big businesses that provide excellent employment opportunities in our state. The economic benefits of anti-discrimination laws are boundless. They make workers more likely to accept job offers in our state and help us keep young, well-educated West Virginians from leaving the state to find employment elsewhere.

What should lawmakers do to make our state more attractive to big businesses? The Fairness Act “would ensure LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces.”  This act remains paramount for protecting LGBTQ West Virginians in employment, in addition to extending protections to housing and public accommodations. This proposed legislation shows that WV values all residents and that it will take legal measures to protect them. The time is now to SUPPORT the Fairness Act!

LGBTQ people want to be able to live and work in West Virginia. LGBTQ people value their deep ties to family and the history of our state. The desire to receive gender-affirming healthcare, play sports, and raise a family are foundational to the happiness and safety of all individuals. Urge your representatives to SUPPORT the Fairness Act and choose to protect ALL West Virginians. 

Sincerely, 

Amy Alvarez, Daniel Brewster, Ryan Carroll, J. Spenser Darden, Megan Gandy, Brad Grimes, Robb Livingood, Rayna Momen, Nova Szoka, Jeneice Shaw, and Sam Wilmoth on behalf of the WVU LGBTQ+ Commission