The Worst Day Yet Was the Best Day So Far

The Worst Day Yet Was the Best Day So Far
Photo by Matt Popovich / Unsplash

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 should be a long-remembered day in West Virginia. Some are calling it the worst day yet for this Republican legislative session. I feel differently. I think it was the day equal rights for gay and lesbian West Virginians shifted from a long-held dream of some of to a near-certainty for all. The longer the day went on, the clearer it became that equality will prevail in the Mountain State. House Bill 2881 has showed us the future.

It didn’t feel that way at first. Listening the Republican-controlled House Government Organization Committee debate, and following the discussion online, there were depressing posts and comments. The hardest to read were those from West Virginians who felt totally disillusioned that in 2015, any part of our State government would pass a law targeting LGTB West Virginians and trying to legitimize discrimination against them. Some said they felt like leaving and never coming back. Others wrote movingly of how much they cared about their home State and how they wished it would love them, as much as they love it.

But after reading those understandable and justified reactions, I went looking for the arguments in favor of this bill. It’s part of my job to read them. Anyway, there’s always a controversy on every bill isn’t there? When Republicans take aim at working families’ wages, they at least have a position – even if it’s a wrong one – for what they are doing. When they try to cut back safety for coal miners, they have a position – even if it’s a wrong one – and they’ll tell it to you. Even when they go after vaccinations against disease, a move we know is a wrong one, they’ll give you some reason why they’re doing it

What did they have to say for their (it’s actually copied from Arkansas) anti-gay bill? Nothing. They were on the run from the jump, ridiculously naming their bill the “West Virginia Interstate Commerce Improvement Act.” Even the reliably-conservative Hoppy Kercheval tweaked them for that. And they stayed on the run throughout the day, basically spending the whole time pretending the bill was about something else and avoiding direct questions about what they were up to. When the vote to exempt existing anti-discrimination ordinances occurred, the Chairman refused to let those voting against be identified in the record.

Of course everyone knows that Charleston, Morgantown, Harpers Ferry, and even Thurmond have passed municipal ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Everyone knows those laws are the inspiration for this bill, to knock out the free choices the voters made and, as Delegate Lynne “I don’t care” Arvon explained, preventing other cities from doing the same. She said: “[I] was approached by mayors representing several cities who did not want to be forced to enact nondiscrimination clauses they disagree with.” Forced “by voters,” the Delegate forgot to add. It’s voters they are afraid of – West Virginia’s voters.


They should be afraid – not only of what they have done, but what they are doing. They know how completely wrong it is. They can’t even go through the old motions any more, pretending that discrimination represents “family values” or claiming that “tradition” justifies their stand against recognizing the full and equal dignity of all West Virginians. The AARP spoke against the bill, for heaven’s sake.

So they soldiered on, like the Japanese still fighting World War II thirty years after the war ended. They were embarrassed for themselves, reciting incoherently that businesses get upset by anti-discrimination laws, while we all know 85% of the Fortune 500 already prohibit discrimination based on orientation, including Proctor & Gamble. Not one defense on the merits could be found – “here’s why I think it should be legal to discriminate against people . . .” All questions were ducked.

West Virginians will treat people equally and decently and leave their private affairs alone – we believe in live and let live. There may always be a small hard core holding out for old prejudices – some few will try to practice racism, sexism or discrimination based on religion or ethnicity, like anywhere else, but those few have no defenders, no champions in public life anymore. We know where those views stand with the overwhelming majority of folks.

And now, even in our Republican-controlled legislature, no one will speak out any more for discriminating against LGBT Mountaineers. Some used to be proud to do that, but the fight’s gone out of them. They cloaked it as best they could; they were so ashamed – anyone could see it. It won’t be long before they’re denying they had anything to do with it. West Virginia belongs to the voters and we don’t vote to exclude our fellow West Virginians from their equal rights. When we simply come out to vote next time, full respect towards all people will prevail because, on February 25th, 2015, anti-gay discrimination in West Virginia dared not speak its own name.

And that made it the best day, so far, for equality in West Virginia. On to the public hearing.