Here are the basics concerning Parkersburg's Non-discrimination Ordinance. Some of these questions have been asked by members of the community during Parkersburg City Council meetings. We hope you will find these answers helpful.
What is Parkersburg’s Non-discrimination Ordinance?
The Parkersburg Non-discrimination Ordinance is based upon the West Virginia Human Rights Act, which was passed in 1964.
The West Virginia Human Rights Act provides citizens equal opportunity for employment, housing, and public accommodations. Equal opportunity is declared to be a human right or civil right for all persons without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, blindness, disability, or familial status. According to the West Virginia Human Rights Act, denial of these rights to properly qualified persons is contrary to the principles of freedom and equality of opportunity and is destructive to a free and democratic society.
Parkersburg’s proposed Ordinance would add veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity and genetic information to the already existing list.
Why does Parkersburg need to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the human rights or civil rights list?
There are over 9 million LGBT adults in the United States.
Over 57,000 West Virginians identify as LGBT and they need to be treated fairly and equally under the law. Currently, LGBT persons in Parkersburg have no protection from being fired, evicted or denied basic public accommodation just for being who they are. We believe all Parkersburg city residents should be able to live with dignity and free from discriminatory treatment.
Who brought this to Parkersburg?
Local Parkersburg residents who are LGBT reached out to Fairness West Virginia, a statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment of and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender West Virginians. These residents are contributing members of our community. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family and they deserve equal treatment and protection in Parkersburg.
Is Parkersburg the only West Virginia city to consider adding a Non-discrimination Ordinance?
No, ten other cities and towns in West Virginia have already passed inclusive non-discrimination ordinances since 2007. Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, Lewisburg, Harper’s Ferry, Thurmond, Shepherdstown, Charles Town, Sutton and Martinsburg. In addition, Morgantown and Fairmont both have Human Rights Commissions that include protection for LGBTQ.
Why should Parkersburg enact a Non-discrimination Ordinance?
Parkersburg is West Virginia’s fourth largest city and the absence of a non-discrimination ordinance here makes it a less inclusive town, an outlier. This does not go unnoticed by businesses, families or individuals considering investing in and relocating to Parkersburg.
Parkersburg was recently ranked by WalletHub, a financial services website, as the least culturally diverse city out of 501 of the largest cities in the United States. An NDO would go a long way in improving Parkersburg’s poor image.
How will a non-discrimination ordinance effect businesses regarding employment?
Nationally, 96% of Fortune 500 companies have LGBT inclusive non-discrimination employment policies. Locally, Camden Clark Hospital, HighMark BCBS West Virginia, Huntington Bank, WVUP, Walmart, McDonalds just to name a few, all have LGBT inclusive non-discrimination employment policies. These policies do not simply reflect a moral choice. Major companies are aware that to recruit and retain the best and brightest people, they must have an inclusive workplace environment and non-discrimination policies.
Under the NDO, employers must make hiring and other employment decisions based on a person’s job performance, work experience, education, and work-related credentials, not who they are.
Employers maintain the right to implement and enforce workplace standards of conduct, such as dress codes. There are no quotas, affirmative action policies, or recruitment programs that would give anyone preferential treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity under Parkersburg's Non-discrimination Ordinance. It also does not require employers to collect or compile statistics about the sexual orientation and gender identity of employees or applicants
In Parkersburg, employers with 12 or more employees would be required to follow the Non-discrimination Ordinance in employment policies. The NDO could not be applied to smaller Parkersburg businesses with fewer than 12 employees.
What about Churches and religious organizations, would they be required to follow the NDO?
Absolutely not! Nothing in Parkersburg’s Non-discrimination Ordinance would violate the rights of freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article III, Section 15 of the West Virginia Constitution.
The Ordinance includes an exemption for churches, pastors, parochial schools, and other religious organizations.
Under Parkersburg’s NDO a minister, for example, could not be forced to marry a same sex couple nor could a Christian school be required to employ a LGBT teacher. These institutions and organizations are free to teach and spread their doctrine and beliefs without fear of infringement.
What are public accommodations and how does that relate to the NDO?
Public accommodations refer to businesses or buildings that are open to or offer services to the general public. Businesses that offer goods or services to the public including food, lodging, gasoline and entertainment are considered public accommodations for purposes of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. City of Parkersburg facilities such as parks are also considered public accommodations.
Parkersburg’s NDO requires that businesses that are open to the public offer those goods and services to the general public without discrimination. Business do not have the right to refuse service to any LGBTQ person simply because of their orientation or identity. A person may be excluded based on other issues such as drunkenness, lack of vacancy, or other reasonable grounds without violating a public accommodation law.
Accommodations that are private in nature, such as the Masonic Lodge or the VFW, are exempt from Parkersburg’s NDO because they are private clubs that operate exclusively for the benefit of their members.
What about a business, such as a baker or florist, that objects to providing its goods or services to a same-sex couple getting married? Will they face fines?
Fines are not assessed under Parkersburg's Non-Discrimination Ordinance. When a business decides to open its doors to the public and make a profit by engaging in business transactions, our longstanding laws recognize that the business should not be able to turn people away just because of who they are. These longstanding restrictions on discrimination by businesses, like all laws, must conform to any constitutional limits and respect constitutional rights. That won’t change when we update our laws to add protections for gay and transgender people. It’s also important to remember that doing business with a same-sex couple is not participating in a wedding or endorsing anyone’s marriage.
Providing a commercial service doesn’t mean a business owner endorses or agrees with everything the customer believes. It simply means they are providing services to the public and that they are open to everyone on the same terms.
Does the 14th Amendment to the Constitution allow me to discriminate against people who offend my religious beliefs?
Some religious persons who wish to discriminate against LGBT folks have attempted to use the 14th amendment to justify their discrimination. They contend that to require a business owner to serve a LGBT person violates the right of religious freedom of the business owner. To the contrary, courts have declared over and over that discrimination cannot be justified by one’s religious beliefs. For instance, a Muslim business owner cannot discriminate against a woman who does not wear a hijab. A Christian business owner cannot discriminate against a mixed-race couple, even though such a union might violate their religious beliefs. In the same vein, under the NDO, a business owner cannot use religious beliefs to discriminate against an LGBT person, even though their personal religious beliefs are anti-LGBT. The 14th amendment cannot be used to justify discrimination against others based on one’s religious belief.
I am a person of faith. How does the NDO reflect my values?
Treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves includes making sure that no one is fired from their job, evicted from their home, or turned away from a business, just because of who they are.
We should all have the right to earn a living and support our families, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
As people of faith recognize, all are children of God, and we are all called to treat others with dignity and respect. All faiths value service and helping others, so we are all called to advocate for the fair treatment of all God’s children, including gay and transgender people.
I own rental property; won’t it make it harder for me to evict tenants?
No. As a landlord you still may file an action to evict a tenant for not paying the rent or otherwise violating the rental agreement. For example, just as a tenant who has not paid the rent can’t use his race, religion, gender, national origin, family status, or disability as a defense against eviction, he cannot claim being LGBT as a defense either. As a landlord, you must already be compliant with the Federal Fair Housing Act as well as the West Virginia Fair Housing Act. Adding veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity and genetic information to the already existing list does not constitute an undue burden under the law.
Would the Non-discrimination Ordinance require the owner of a duplex to rent the other unit to a same-sex couple?
No. West Virginia State Human Rights laws includes exemptions for owner-occupied duplexes as well as individual roommate arrangements. The NDO would not change these protections, and homeowners and people seeking roommates could continue to make those choices if Parkersburg's NDO becomes the law.
What if I want to sell my house but would prefer not to sell to a same-sex couple?
The West Virginia Association of Realtors® as well as the National Association of Realtors® already adhere to a detailed code of ethics which states REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services or be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If working with a realtor, you would be unable to discriminate regardless of Parkersburg’s NDO.
Can the City of Parkersburg impose fines or jail time on businesses or individuals that do not comply with the Non-discrimination Ordinance?
Absolutely not! It would be incumbent upon the person who felt discriminated against to seek all legal remedies in a civil court.
Won’t this result in a flood of unnecessary lawsuits?
No. In 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report surveying the number of claims filed with state authorities in 21 states and D.C. that had statutes barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation (17 states and D.C. also barred discrimination based on gender identity). The GAO found that, on average, claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity were about 3-4% of the total number of employment discrimination claims.
Aren’t these laws just a big legal hammer to be used against business making them more susceptible to lawsuits?
Not at all. In the 10 years that West Virginia has had inclusive non-discrimination ordinances there have been zero lawsuits concerning public accommodations or housing. There has been one lawsuit for termination of employment because a woman was fired when her boss found out she was a lesbian. A court determined the woman was discriminated against because she identified as a lesbian, but it must be noted that no monetary remedy was awarded.
Some people falsely claim that these types of lawsuits are settled out of court by employers or businesses but there isn’t evidence to support that theory. One case involving a Charleston WV pizza chain is sometimes cited by people who oppose equality as an example of an out of court settlement. That case involves a man who was wrongfully terminated for being gay. What the opponents leave out of their argument is the fact that the same pizza chain was also sued by three women for sexual harassment. In addition, they were sued by an individual who claimed the restaurant was serving pizzas made from contaminated water following the severe flooding in West Virginia last year. A business that has patterns and practices of bad behavior concerning its employees and customers will likely be sued and should not be held up as an example of non-discrimination lawsuits being settled out of court.
How does the NDO address privacy in public restrooms? Does it allow “men who think they are women” to go into women’s restrooms?
First and foremost, non-discrimination laws and ordinances that are inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression have existed in the United States for more than 40 years. In those 40 years across the entire country, no one – not one person – has ever committed an unlawful act in a bathroom and claimed a non-discrimination law as a defense.
There is no Federal or West Virginia state law regarding who can enter which restroom and Parkersburg’s NDO will have no impact on that. It must be noted that men and women go in and out of public restrooms all the time regardless of whether it is defined as a men’s room or women’s room. There is good reason for this. Sometimes it is necessary for a mother to bring her son into the women’s room or a father to bring his daughter into the men’s room. Often people who are caretakers for the elderly, blind or disabled must assist them in the public restrooms.
Parkersburg’s Non-discrimination Ordinance does not allow predators of any shape or form to get a free pass to harass or harm anyone. Chief Joe Martin and the Parkersburg Police Department are more than capable of upholding the law and protecting the citizens of Parkersburg.
This bill simply allows people, including transgender people, to use the appropriate restroom. It does not change the rules that govern behavior in the restroom – it offers basic protections for those using the restrooms.
What about school restrooms and locker rooms?
In schools, every student has the right to learn in a safe and accepting school environment and be provided with the same equal opportunities. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, have said that Title IX requires all schools receiving federal funding to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in every aspect of the school, including when separating students in different facilities like restrooms. This is important because transgender boys are boys and transgender girls are girls, and they need to be included and treated like other children.
Why would a man want to be a woman or why would a woman want to be a man?
Understanding what it is like to be transgender can be hard, especially if you have never met a transgender person. We don’t know what it is like for others until we have walked a mile in their shoes.
A transgender person is someone whose sex at birth is different from what they know they are on the inside.
Transgender people are already living and working in Parkersburg, and they should be treated with dignity and respect just like everyone else.
Would Parkersburg’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance create a “special class” of people or give one group special rights?
No, the NDO simply updates an existing law that already prevents discrimination against people based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, blindness, disability, or familial status, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The NDO says what most West Virginians already know: anyone who works hard, does a good job, and plays by the rules should not be denied housing, employment or service just for being who they are. Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. Parkersburg’s Non-discrimination Ordinance strives to put everyone on a level playing field.
Will Parkersburg’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance help to grow the city and attract business?
Parkersburg needs to be more inclusive, diverse, tolerant and nondiscriminatory and the NDO would certainly be a step in the right direction. We all want to see Parkersburg thrive and a NDO is just another tool in the toolbox to promote Parkersburg as a great place to live, work, worship and raise a family. If we don’t see the need for change, we will not grow. In the future, it may become hard to attract new businesses to the area because today’s larger employers require non-discrimination policies. Nearly 70 percent of Americans – including 65 percent of Republicans – support protecting gay and transgender people under nondiscrimination laws. Millennials overwhelmingly support LGBTQ rights and they want to live in welcoming communities. If our young people continue to leave because Parkersburg lacks opportunity and diversity, our city will face greater challenges than we have today.