Where to even begin?
Let us set the scene: It’s Dec. 15, and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources tweets out an image of two men (ostensibly a gay couple) lying side-by-side on the floor while one holds a baby aloft and the other makes a funny face. Along with the image, the DHHR tweeted the words: “No matter your family structure, WIC is here to help you and your children get the nutritional help you need” along with a link to WIC’s eligibility guidelines.
The official Twitter account of the West Virginia Republican Party (using the handle @WVGOP) retweeted the image and said, “Perhaps training on the definition of ‘WIC’ is in order for DHHR staff.”
“WIC,” of course, stands for women, infants and children (although it’s usually understood that you do not have to be/possess all three to qualify). It’s a financial and educational resource to assist pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers as well as infants under one and children between one and five. The program offers a stipend for approved healthy foods and educational tools to promote proper nutrition and overall health. To qualify, participants must meet certain income and health-risk requirements and must agree to regular check-ups for themselves and/or their children.
The tweet from the state’s Republican Party was likely to emphasize the “W” for “women” in WIC — and miraculously pulled off being both sexist and bigoted, all in fewer than 280 characters.
The GOP’s remark simultaneously paints the picture of the stereotypical poverty-stricken, unwed young mother begging for a government handout while erasing LGBTQ+ parents, single fathers and nontraditional families, such as grandfamilies and guardianships.
A tweet may not be official policy, but this extremely narrow-minded — not to mention prejudiced — approach to government programs is exactly what West Virginia will face as the Republican mega-majority takes over in January.
We would not be surprised if the Legislature, in its attempt to demolish any trace of the LGBTQ community in West Virginia, decided to rewrite the rules of WIC so only women can sign up their children. In doing so, it may very well disqualify single fathers or male guardians, such as grandfathers, uncles or older brothers, from receiving the benefits and resources that allow them to purchase healthy, nutritional food for the infants or young children in their care. (Of course, such a plan would also have one unintended side-effect: Heterosexual male guardians might be disqualified, but lesbian couples will still have access to the full program. Unless the Legislature makes the mistake of saying the quiet thing out loud and explicitly disqualifies any LGBTQ+ individual.)
The Norman-Rockwellian image of the aproned housewife and the suited husband sitting around the table with their 2.5 kids and a white picket fence in the background hasn’t applied to much of the Mountain State in several decades. Nontraditional families are quickly becoming the norm, from single parents, to sole or majority custody arrangements, to grandparents raising grandkids, to foster or kinship families.
It will be up to us, as West Virginia citizens and voters, to remind legislators that there are far more pressing issues than the culture-war battles they seem fixated on waging. Republican lawmakers should be focused on keeping their promises to fix the roads, expand broadband access and repair West Virginia’s outdated and crumbling infrastructure instead of literally taking food from babies.