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W.Va. legislators rally for anti-discrimination bill

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Michael Erb Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, was the featured speaker Monday during a Fairness West Virginia rally in the Capitol seeking support for Senate Bill 125 which seeks to extend workplace and housing protections for gay, lesbian and transgender West Virginians.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Michael Erb
Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, was the featured speaker Monday during a Fairness West Virginia rally in the Capitol seeking support for Senate Bill 125 which seeks to extend workplace and housing protections for gay, lesbian and transgender West Virginians.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislators and business representatives rallied Monday in Charleston to show support for the state’s gay and lesbian community.

Fairness West Virginia held a press conference Monday morning at the Capitol to rally support for Senate Bill 125, which seeks to amend the state’s Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. The state has no such protections for gay, lesbian or transgender residents.

Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, is the primary sponsor of the bill and was the featured speaker Monday.

“I tell folks that I find it ironic that in West Virginia you can now get married on a Saturday, get evicted on a Sunday and fired on Monday,” he said. “Why? Because you are doing what is perfectly legal for other people in society.”

Kessler and several other officials pointed to the need for more workers and ability to attract businesses.

“We cannot afford a West Virginia to discriminate against anybody,” said Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell. “How can we ever push away people who are adding to the tax base?”

Hornbuckle and other speakers compared the fight against discrimination based on sexual preference to past fights against discrimination based on race and sex.

“That’s what we’re doing today. We have to stand with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community because we are all the same,” he said. “Do the right thing.”

Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, the state’s first openly gay legislator, said he believed full protections could be a difficult sell this session. Instead, Skinner said he likely would seek more focused protections.

“Perhaps what we need to do during this legislative session is create a new ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that is focused just on state employees,” he said. “I think it is something that is reasonable and it doesn’t interfere at all with private business, which is the concern of many of the people who oppose ENDA.”

Though the rally was intended to show bipartisan support, at the last minute two Republican speakers were unable to attend. Both Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, were scheduled to speak and listed on the Fairness press release.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness, said he was “disappointed” the senators did not attend and said officials confirmed their intent to speak several times before the rally.

“This should be a bipartisan issue,” he said. “The fact that these Republicans backed out at the last minute, is not good, in my view, for the Republican party.

“Our non-discrimination campaign is going to make West Virginia a better place to attract businesses, and this ought to be a platform Republicans sign on to.”

Hall said a Senate Energy Committee was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, the same time as the rally. Hall said he spoke to members of Fairness prior to the rally and asked if he could speak first, but was told no.

“I don’t know how we’re being portrayed as villains in this,” he said. “I had prepared remarks. I had every intention of speaking.”

Hall said following the meeting he was asked to speak to several people and was unable to make it to the rally before the Senate convened at 11 a.m. Carmichael also attended the energy committee meeting, Hall said.

Hall said he prepared comments centered around inclusion and common ground, but said he did not endorse ENDA or SB 125.

“I am in favor of having the discussion,” he said.

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