LGBTQ Rights Advocates Respond To Huntington Delegate’s Comments, Continue Push For Fairness Act
Advocates for equal rights for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities are continuing their push to end discrimination.
The renewed effort to pass The Fairness Act — a perennial legislative proposal that would outlaw discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual preference and gender identity — comes on the heels of the latest comments on the issue from Del. John Mandt, R-Cabell, as the legislative session approaches.
In a Facebook post published last week, Mandt outlined his opposition to the Fairness Act.
“Oftentimes evil cloaks itself in pleasant sounding terms, and that is exactly what the Fairness Act does. There is nothing fair about it,” Mandt wrote on Feb. 4. “It falsely claims to be a civil rights bill about fairness in employment and housing. But instead it’s nothing more than a wrongful appropriation of the civil rights movement to force a behavioral pattern into a legally protected class.”
Mandt’s comments followed Del. Josh Higginbotham, R-Putnam, announcing that he would introduce the Fairness Act this legislative session. But Mandt’s recent remarks on issues of gay rights aren’t the first time he’s drawn controversy.
Mandt resigned from his seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in October 2020 after screenshots surfaced showing him using homophobic slurs. But he later reclaimed his seat following the November general election after saying he would once again serve if re-elected.
Fairness West Virginia, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a pair of Democratic state lawmakers and others from the Huntington community, held a news conference Tuesday to respond to Mandt’s comments made on social media.
“We are not asking for special treatment. We are just asking to be treated like every other West Virginian,” said Ally Layman, president of Huntington Pride, about the Fairness Act. “We'd like to be free from possible harassment or fear of folks turning down our business, and not welcoming us and our families.
Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, is the only openly gay state lawmaker currently serving. During Tuesday’s news conference, Thompson made mention of other Republican lawmakers who had made anti-gay comments in recent sessions.
“I'm personally sick of it. I'm absolutely sick of working with people who do not value me as a person. You don't have to like me. You don't have to agree with my politics. But I respect you as a person, [so] you respect me and all other West Virginians of the LGBTQ community and respect them. I very much condemn the words of Delegate Mandt,” Thompson said.
Other speakers at Tuesday’s news conference spoke out about Mandt taking issue with renewed efforts to pass the Fairness Act coinciding with Black History Month.
“I found it quite appalling that — to use Black History Month and the civil rights movement as a means to divide the people of West Virginia — is just incredible and unbelievable,” said Katonya Hart of the NAACP West Virginia.
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia — who is Black and identifies as queer — is also speaking out against Mandt’s comments.
“Our similarities make us human and our differences make us people,” Walker said. “Fairness is an impartial and just treatment — a behavior without favoritism or discrimination. So let's highlight the discrimination, the prejudice, the hate and racism. The statement from my colleague included all of the above.”
With the West Virginia Legislature kicking off its 2021 regular session at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 10, the fate of the Fairness Act remains unknown.
Fairness West Virginia says some version of a non-discrimination bill has been introduced at the the West Virgina Capitol every year for at least 20 years. In more recent legislative sessions, Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to move the bill from committee and to the floor for a vote.
While Gov. Jim Justice expressed support for the measure in a debate during his 2020 re-election campaign, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkely, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, have not publicly commented on the issue.
According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index, West Virginia is among 25 states rated at the lowest ranking and designated as a “high priority to achieve basic equality.”