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Charles Town passes nondiscrimination ordinance

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — After hearing various concerns and praise from the public, Charles Town City Council members voted 5-2 during Tuesday night’s meeting to pass its proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, joining other municipalities across the state.

Council members Ann Paonessa, Sandra Slusher McDonald, Michael Tolbert, Jonathan Wertman and Nick Zaglifa voted in favor of the ordinance’s passage, while council members Chet Hines and Bob Trainor opposed its implementation.

At the beginning of the council meeting, before the public comment portion ensued for the ordinance, Mayor Peggy Smith made a proclamation for Charles Town to become a “Golden Rule” city. As stated in the proclamation, the designation is meant to make sure the citizens of Charles Town treat others the ways in which they would like to be treated.

“In this world of drugs and violence, we need to place value on human life, respect for our parents, family, neighbors, our country and the laws of the land,” reads the proclamation, which was unanimously approved by council members Tuesday night.

Following the proclamation, over 30 individuals were signed up to present public comments to the council, and each speaker was limited to two minutes.

During the Charles Town City Council meeting earlier in June, members of the public spoke for over five hours during the public comment portion expressing their opinions of the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, which municipalities including Martinsburg, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown have already enacted.

Tuesday night, council members heard many of the same concerns and praises that were offered at the previous meeting.

James Tolbert read a prepared statement from the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP in support of the ordinance.

“Know through the words of our national president, Cornell William Brooks, in his statement issued Monday, June 13 that the NAACP reaffirms its commitment to protecting civil rights of all,” he read.

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“To quote: ‘On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the NAACP I want to assert clearly that we stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart and hand in hand with our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.'”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, also spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“Like it or not, the horrible mass shooting in Orlando looms over us tonight,” Schneider told the council and members of the public. “(This) toxic dehumanization of the LGBT community (needs to stop).” Schneider said the Orlando shooting makes “it all the more imperative that you adopt this ordinance,” and “there is no room to finesse this issue.”

Many individuals from other municipalities where an ordinance is currently in place also spoke in favor of enacting it in Charles Town, based on their experiences.

Kevin Carden, town recorder for Harpers Ferry Town Council, said there has not been any backlash in Harpers Ferry over the ordinance, and he encouraged Charles Town to follow suit and pass its own ordinance.

“Old ways of thinking become more and more archaic, and it’s sad that we still have a need for these ordinances,” Carden said. “We need to recognize that we’re all equal.”

On the other side of the issue, several members of the public voiced their concerns about potential loss of protections for religious organizations or the fear that predators posing as transgender individuals would be protected under the ordinance if passed.

Terrie Thomas, who spoke in opposition to the ordinance, said she has no contention with offering more rights for the LGBT community. However, as a victim of sexual assault, Thomas said she was concerned about predators potentially posing as the opposite sex to take advantage of other individuals in public restrooms.

Mary Edgar, who also spoke against the ordinance, said it goes against religious freedoms those living in America expect to enjoy.

“I am pleading for the safety of my children and grandchildren,” Edgar said. “This (ordinance) is the most egregious assault on the Christian religion in this state so far.”

Trainor, who had originally proposed several amendments to the ordinance, suggested that the council have the city’s attorney look at the ordinance to measure its legality, because of the amount of controversy it has caused.

A short discussion and PowerPoint presentation from Michael Tolbert explaining the sections of West Virginia and Charles Town codes that offer protection for religious organizations, as well as sections of code that state indecent exposure and invasion of privacy are illegal and punishable, followed Trainor’s suggestion.

The next Charles Town City Council meeting will be held Tuesday, July 5, at 7 p.m.

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.

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