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LGBTQ Rights in Question in West Virginia Thanks to a Bigoted Delegate
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9 Feb 2019 03:27 PM EST

-by Drew Kolar, Editor; Image: Republican Delegate Eric Porterfield of West Virginia (Image Source: West Virginia Legislature / Public Domain)

Discrimination and hate are unfortunately not dead in the United States, and it is a shame that many once-progressive parts of the country have taken steps backwards—especially after the election of Donald J. Trump.

In West Virginia, a debate over LGBTQ rights is currently underway after Republican Delegate Eric Porterfield made inflammatory statements against the community and claiming that residents should be allowed to fire or deny housing to others due to their sexual orientation.

On Wednesday, Porterfield voiced his support for a bill that would limit what ordinances cities are allowed to enact, WDTV reports. Proposed by Republican Del. Tom Bibby, the bill comes after cities throughout the state have passed non-discrimination ordinances adding LGBTQ discrimination protections to their code. These cities include Martinsburg, Beckley, Wheeling, Morgantown, and my hometown of Fairmont. The ordinances go beyond West Virginia state law, which does not currently protect the gay community from discrimination.

Porterfield, however, claims legislators cannot control citizens’ behavior and that LGBT groups are “socialists” that don’t protect their people.

“The LGBT is the most socialist group in this country,” he said in his rant on Wednesday. “They do not protect gays. There are many gays they persecute if they do not line up with their social ideology.”

“We cannot allow discriminatory bigots to determine how our citizens are going to live,” he added.

He also used the anti-gay slur “f-ggot,” although reportedly in the context of quoting the name of a speaking tour that uses the word in its title.

During his argument in favor of the amendment, he continued to criticize the LGBTQ community with additional bigoted commentary. The amendment would have allowed for the discrimination of LGBTQ people despite city ordinances forbidding it. Thankfully, the amendment was voted down.

Well-deserved disapproval of Porterfield’s commentary came swiftly from his peers, yet the delegate still refused to back down, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

“The LGBTQ is a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate,” Porterfield said in an interview on Friday.

He also called the gay community a “terrorist group” and claimed he is being “persecuted” for his disgraceful remarks.

Democrats have not been forgiving, with Delegate Danielle Walker being one of the most disapproving. It should be noted that Walker is a black woman with a gay son, so the issue obviously hits close to home.

“Why do we need more hate?” Walker said. “Why do we need more name-calling? Why do we need to reference other groups that illustrated so much hate and destruction and ugliness. Why do we need to do that?”

During a House of Delegates meeting the following day—“All Kinds Are Welcome Here” Day—Delegate Mike Caputo also commented on Wednesday’s incident. Caputo hails from Fairmont, one of the cities with protective ordinances barring discrimination.

“It’s shameful, absolutely shameful that we got into such a heated debate over an issue that our children can’t understand why we fight about,” he said, according to West Virginia MetroNews. “You wanna move West Virginia forward but you wanna tell someone you can’t protect ’em because of who they love? I call a big B.S. on that. That’s what it is. It’s hate. It’s hate. It’s hate. If anybody thinks any differently they’re only kidding themselves.”

West Virginia Democratic Party (WVDP) Chairwoman Belinda Biafore also called for Republicans to denounce Porterfield's “hate-filled remarks and actions” and called for his resignation.

“First of all, Delegate Porterfield needs to resign,” she said in a statement, according to Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “West Virginia has no room for someone who expresses such hate. Let alone room for him to hold a public office where he is supposed to represent the people of West Virginia. His hate-filled remarks and actions speak volumes and so does the Republican Party's silence. The Republican majority's leadership needs to condemn these actions. Their silence is complicit and the people of West Virginia deserve better.”

Even Porterfield’s fellow republicans have been distancing from his commentary. The Gazette-Mail reported that Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw responded on Friday to Porterfield’s comments, noting that he had not yet discussed them with the delegate personally.

“I hope that no one would make those kind of statements,” he said. “That sounds like nothing I would certainly ever agree with, but I would want to talk to him before I comment on what he said.”

Other republicans, such as House Judiciary Chairman John Shott and Delegate Vernon Criss, declined to comment, though Delegate Daniel Linville spoke out.

“He’s wrong, very wrong,” Linville said. “There’s just no excuse though for some of the things that he said.”

“When we talk, and when we say things, we need to represent our caucus, instead of putting us, our caucus, out on a limb,” Republican Delegate John Mandt also said. “[Porterfield] is a great guy, I just would prefer that we don’t put people down if they do something that you don’t personally believe in.”

Porterfield’s hateful remarks come at a trying time in America, with the Trump administration continuing to use hateful rhetoric and pass legislations threatening may aspects of basic human rights. Still, the response to his rantings is important, with even state republicans seeming to oppose—or at least steer clear of—his statements.

West Virginia—my home state that at one time seemed a diverse, welcoming, progressive part of the country—was once a Democratic state, voting blue in nearly every election from 1932 to 1996. Since then, the state has gone red, beginning with the election of George W. Bush in 2000. But it was the election of Trump that seemed to greatly negatively impact the state—at least from this former resident’s point of view. Porterfield is a great representative of everything that has been wrong about the political climate in West Virginia, as well as the rest of the country, as of late.

As am a gay man from a long line of staunch Democrats from West Virginia, I also condemn Porterfield’s disgusting comments. Growing up in Fairmont, my community was very welcoming and open while I lived there, but that has since dwindled in recent years. Although I escaped to New York City before any of this hatred came to light, I am still fighting for my friends’ rights who have stayed behind.

Nobody can tell LGBTQ people how to live their lives, and businesses and housing providers cannot discriminate simply because they think certain people are “icky” or “abominations” or whatever else they may believe. Porterfield and his ilk need to remember when black people were considered less than human and were segregated, as this is the exact same mentality in modern times, just directed toward a different group. LGBTQ people do not at all affect anyone else’s lives.

Not everyone lives the same lifestyle or follows the same religion, and government legislation cannot be dictated by any religion—hence separation of church and state. Therefore, it should not be legal to discriminate against someone due to your religious convictions. Porterfield must be removed from his position immediately and apologize, and West Virginia must open their eyes to the amount of hatred some of these people spew. It is time for the hate to end and for the country begin to battle the human rights disaster that has been snowballing. The current state of the union, at least regarding human rights, is abysmal, and we need to come together to right the wrongs that have been permeating our society.

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