On Saturday September 24th, 2011, I was in the upper deck of Mylan Puskar Stadium. I was in the student section where I frequently sat during games. I still tell my students that there is no place I would rather watch a football game than among our students in the upper section of Mountaineer Field. This day was a bit different, we were playing the LSU Tigers, and I was targeted by a student who felt that as a gay man I shouldn't be allowed to teach. The intriguing part was that, though I had come out to my friends and family in April of 2011, I was not out publicly on campus.
Everything changed on that fateful night for me and I wouldn't change anything if I could. I would come out publicly in the Daily Athenaeum, the West Virginia University newspaper on Monday, October 3rd of 2011. However, before I wrote the piece for the paper where I came out, I spoke with one of my colleagues and my mentor who urged me to write the article. I was fearful that I could lose my job, but she assured me that our institution had a policy of non-discrimination protecting individuals based on their sexual orientation.
Many things changed for me quite rapidly as I was suddenly thrust into a position of leadership on campus, as well as around the state of West Virginia as an advocate for LGBT people. I remember attending the Morgantown city council meeting in February of 2014 where the city council voted unanimously to support a measure that would require Employment Nondiscrimination in our city. The city council meeting was packed as a gallery of ENDA supporters spoke while no individuals spoke in opposition. Just recently, one of our smallest towns, Thurmond, gained national attention as the city council voted unanimously to support Employment Nondiscrimination.
There has been great progress in many towns across the state of West Virginia, as well as institutions like West Virginia University and the State Board of Education in regard to inclusion. However, today, WV HB2881 was introduced by the House Government Organization Committee. The bill will invalidate all city and town policies across West Virginia that have implemented nondiscrimination ordinances and resolutions. The Bill will also invalidate policies like the ones held by institutions like West Virginia University that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy. The Bill would also affect the West Virginia State Board of Education who has surprisingly some of the strongest policies across the nation in protecting LGBT students against harassment and bullying. The HB 2881 is masked as an attempt to create more uniform protection for West Virginians and increase intrastate commerce.
The Bill is political subterfuge, as it states: (a) "No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law" and (b) "Any local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy adopted before the operative date of this act that violates subsection (a) of this section shall be null and void."
The Bill will, if passed, affirm the second-class citizenship of thousands of LGBT Mountaineers. Late last year, Governor Tomblin ordered that West Virginians be allowed to marry partners of the same sex. If this Bill passes, individuals could possibly be married today and fired from their jobs tomorrow. In reality, this could already happen in many areas of our state. However, there are thousands who live in cities in the great state of West Virginia simply because of their inclusionary policies. This Bill also abridges democracy as it inhibits the rights of our towns to govern themselves and protect their citizens in ways that the state of West Virginia laws does not afford.
Late last year, I wrote about how for the first time in my life I felt like the motto of our great state, "Montani Semper Liberi", included me. I grew up in this state and have lived my entire life in West Virginia. I graduated from West Virginia University and have worked tirelessly as a member of the faculty at West Virginia University for more than a decade. If HB 2881 passes, I could ultimately be fired for nothing more than being born gay.