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Support the Fairness Act

A recent press conference at the Capitol in Charleston focused on introduction of the Fairness Act in the 2020 legislative session. This is not a new idea. A similar bill has been introduced in every session since 1993. Nor is this a radical idea. This act will simply add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s current Human Rights Act and Fair Housing Act.

This addition really goes no further than formalizing a principle that most West Virginians already live by — to do unto others as they would have done unto them. Treating our neighbors fairly in jobs, housing and the public marketplace is such a simple way to improve the quality of life for all West Virginians. Passage of the Fairness Act will take no rights away from anyone. It will expand opportunity for people who find themselves unable to obtain or retain jobs or housing simply because of who they are or who they love.

The Williams Institute reports more LGBTQ+ West Virginians live in poverty than their cisgender heterosexual family members. Treating all citizens equally in hiring and firing would help improve the personal economies of LGBTQ+ people, while potentially improving the economy of the entire state. West Virginia struggles with declining economic prospects and loss of Mountaineers to other states.

Any municipal, county or state employee tasked with attracting new business to our beautiful state can attest to the challenges of attracting national and international companies. Some challenges are expensive and difficult to overcome. The Act represents one solution that is free and readily available. According to the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Eighty-three percent prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. As expected, other businesses are adopting similar policies to maintain a competitive advantage. If we hope to attract business to our state, we must be able to assure companies looking to expand or relocate that their employees will feel welcome and accepted inside and outside the walls of the workplace.

Adding these protections will likely also help to stem some of the outmigration of young, bright West Virginians. So many young people want to make their home state a more vibrant place to live, among them many young LGBTQ+ West Virginians who move to states with protection they are denied here. 2020 is the year to grow our state as we make sure all West Virginians have equal opportunity under the law.

Jeanne Peters

President, Out MOV

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