NDO backers keep pressure on Parkersburg City Council
Fairness Parkersburg calls on city to bring measure back
During the public forum at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting, eight members of Fairness Parkersburg read a prepared four-page statement, each saying a portion of it to comply with the two-minute time limit for speakers.
Many wore shirts saying “#PKBDeadLast,” a reference to the Municipal Equality Index study by the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Federation, two nationwide lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights advocacy organizations. Out of seven West Virginia cities included in the study, Parkersburg had the lowest score on criteria including nondiscrimination ordinances, the city’s policies as an employer, the presence of a Human Rights Commission and anti-bullying policies in schools.
“For those of us who share optimism for our future and a belief that the city can be better than it is, the mid-October release of the Municipal Equality Index was a heartbreak,” the prepared statement said. “There for the country to see was the ranking of Parkersburg as dead last among West Virginia cities for its treatment of LGBTQ people.”
That followed West Virginia ranking last among the 50 states and District of Columbia in a report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law on social acceptance of LGBTQ people, the statement said.
“So here we are in Parkersburg, W.Va., dead last city in the dead last state for LGBTQ people,” Parkersburg resident Jennifer Bryant read. “Certainly not an enticement for our young people to stay here, for travel-enthused millenials to visit here, for major businesses to expand here, or for entrepreneurs to move here to redevelop our declining downtown or industrial areas or rehabilitate our historic homes.”
The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on a number of factors, including four not specified in West Virginia’s Human Rights Act: sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status and genetic information.
While supporters argued the ordinance — which did not include a penalty but could have made it easier to file suit over discrimination — simply expanded basic human rights protections, opponents said it infringed on religious liberty and could lead to lawsuits against employers and others acting on closely held beliefs. They also argued the ordinance, which did not specifically address restrooms, would lead to men using women’s bathrooms, while supporters noted there is no law regarding use of restrooms now.
Dan Stevens, pastor at Bible Baptist Church and a member of Liberty PKB, which opposed the ordinance, spoke after the Fairness Parkersburg members, saying there are many good things happening in the city.
“I think sometimes we’ve been bullied to think we’re behind the times,” he said, adding the cities of Beckley and Elkins stopped NDOs before they got to their councils for votes.
After the meeting, Mayor Tom Joyce said he believes Parkersburg is a welcoming place and a great location to live, work and raise a family.
“That organization (the Human Rights Campaign) is obviously very narrow in their focus, and their survey questions are very narrow,” he said. “I think it is a miscategorization of the business environment and the general attitude and kindness” found in Parkersburg.
The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was light, as council voted 8-0, with Councilman Bob Mercer absent, to reallocate $40,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to raze a large residential structure at 806 Quincy St.
Earlier this week, Development Director Rickie Yeager said the structure is bigger and more expensive to tear down than many the city has dealt with, which is why the federal money was being requested instead of taking it out of the city’s demolition budget. There was a small fire in the attic of the building in June, and city officials consider it a safety hazard.
Council also voted 8-0 to schedule its December meetings for the 12th and 19th. The latter session was moved up a week to avoid the Christmas holiday.