By November 4, 2016 Read More →

Wheeling releases final draft of LGBT ordinance

WHEELING, W.Va. — A final draft of a proposed Wheeling ordinance which would outlaw employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is now available for public review.

Mayor Glenn Elliott released the document Thursday, ahead of a Nov. 29 public hearing at which Wheeling City Council will collect comment from residents regarding the issue. Council and the Wheeling Human Rights Commission held two public work sessions in September and October to discuss changes to the existing human rights ordinance reflecting LGBT protections encouraged by the commission in a formal resolution.

The amended ordinance would make it unlawful for a business or property owner to refuse employment or housing to, as well as fire or evict, anyone because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Religious institutions would be exempt from this law, in accordance with their First Amendment rights to religious expression.

Also, private clubs would be exempt in terms of granting membership, but would have to abide by the law as employers.

The ordinance defines an employer as “any person employing 12 or more persons within the city and includes an agent of such person, and its agencies.”

Public accommodations, defined as any establishment or person who offers its services, goods or facilities to the general public, would be denied from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The amended ordinance also accounts for race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, familial status and veteran status. The ordinance in its current form also includes these categories, except for veteran status, which was added. Veteran status excludes dishonorable discharge.

In a case of discrimination formally filed with Wheeling’s Human Rights Commission, the group would investigate the matter and work to reconcile the issue between the complainant and the accused. If conciliation cannot be achieved, the commission would present a cease and desist order to the employer or property owner and “take such affirmative action as the commission deems appropriate.” This could mean forwarding the complaint to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission or seeking a court order.

West Virginia does not offer legal protection in state code against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which has prompted several other cities, such as Charleston, Morgantown and Shepherdstown, to enact their own nondiscrimination ordinances. Currently, there are nine cities in West Virginia with such ordinances.

In March, the West Virginia Senate opposed House Bill 4012, the “Religious Freedom Protection Act,” on the basis the bill would establish a legal process for when people and businesses believed government action violated their religious beliefs. Some interpreted this as a way to sanction discrimination against the LGBT community.

Fairness West Virginia, an advocate for equal rights, said at the time the bill would overturn local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances.

The public hearing on Wheeling’s LGBT ordinances is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 29 at Wheeling Park’s White Palace Ballroom.

See more from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. 

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