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Fairness WV and others call for support from representatives

Outspoken advocates for the Equality Act suggested senators and delegates need to publicly show support for the bill to help get it passed.

The bipartisan Equality Act will update federal law to include express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in crucial areas of life including employment, housing, education, and public spaces.

In 2020, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case Bostock v. Clayton County which stated that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is sex discrimination and prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Equality Act would codify the Supreme Court decision by including sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds of employment discrimination under federal law. It would also clarify that other federal laws barring sex discrimination also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Furthermore, the Equality Act is intended to modernize public accommodations protections for all Americans by expanding the types of places where discrimination is prohibited.

The Equality Act is not unlike the Fairness Act, which has been introduced repeatedly in the state of West Virginia. The Fairness Act is a bipartisan proposal that seeks to ensure that no one faces discrimination in employment, housing or public spaces because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the state.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, was one of the earliest supporters of comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation in the state of West Virginia. She has voiced her support for the LGBTQ community since the beginning of her career in 1995.

Fleischauer said providing LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation is more than just a civil rights issue — everybody now has someone in their family that they want to make sure are not being discriminated against, or if they have been discriminated against, that they are not feeling fearful or demonized.

“We don’t want our family members or our neighbors to be denied opportunities for housing because of the person that they love — or not even a person, just the idea of someone they love,” she said.

She said legislation like the Equality Act and the Fairness Act are something we have to keep working toward and we can’t stop talking about.

“There must be some kind of impedance in our souls where we want to separate people, and it’s just very tragic to see where we are. So, we take two steps forward and one step back. It’s really time for us to take two steps forward,” she said.

According to Fleischauer, the LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation has been passed on the senate side numerous times, but it has not been able to pass on the house side.

She believes it is important for Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito to lead on this issue, and they can lead. Fleischauer pointed out that Manchin has a long family history of civil rights support and Capito’s father was also supportive of civil rights legislation during his run as governor.

“We need [Manchin and Capito] to be a little braver and come out and say, ‘We want to make sure that all of our citizens have their civil rights protected, that none of them can be discriminated against or demonized or separated from the rest of us.’ This, to me, is basic fairness,” Fleischauer said.

Twenty-one other states have adopted comprehensive discrimination protections, including West Virginia’s neighbors Maryland and Virginia.

The Equality Act has accumulated support that goes beyond political party lines and demographics. A recent survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported that 83% of Americans support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

Furthermore, the act has been endorsed by over 275 businesses, 50 trade and professional associations, and 500 advocacy organizations.

Freedom of religion is a protection granted under the First Amendment; the Equality Act will not change that. Thousands of American faith leaders have encouraged Congress to pass federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

Rev. Zac Morton of First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown voiced his support for comprehensive LGBTQ discrimination protections.

Morton said he thinks many people assume that religious people are always opposed to anything to do with LGBTQ equality and affirmation in society, but that is not the case.

His denomination has been historically open and affirming on a national level. Other mainline Christian denominations are similarly open and affirming.

“The more you look into it … you see more and more denominations and individual churches becoming more open and affirming, and that is the direction that we’re seeing in general across the United States. That’s absolutely the trend,” he said.

Most of this willingness to become open and affirming is sparked by faith leaders and interpersonal relationships among those leaders, their congregations, their friends, their families, and their coworkers.

Congregations that become open and affirming do not have to leave behind their faith or traditions, Morton said. In fact, many open and affirming congregations embrace LGBTQ protections because of how they understand the teachings of scriptures following the way of the love and hospitality of Jesus Christ, which compels them to act and relate to one another and their neighbors.

The Equality Act passed the House in February and is now in the hands of the Senate. When the Senate might rule on the bill is uncertain, but Jake Jarvis, communications manager at Fairness WV, said that Fairness WV’s national partners have suggested that a decision might come as early as next month, given that June is LGBTQ Pride Month.

“So, it is the time for us as a community to be clear that West Virginians overwhelmingly support these protections and want their neighbors to be able to go to work … and come home safe from discrimination,” Jarvis said.

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