The last six months in Parkersburg have been very difficult for people who identify as LGBTQ and their many allies in the community who love and support them. In our efforts to bring equality for all in employment, housing and public accommodations; we experienced a side of Parkersburg most of us had hoped had faded away or retreated into the darkness from which it came. Sadly, we discovered not much has changed in Parkersburg. In fact, things may have gotten worse. There is a rise in our community of a radical religious right who believe it is perfectly fine to refer to your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers as perverts, queers, sexual predators, molesters, demonic, mistakes, abominations, and deviants. All of this and more has been spoken in our City Council meetings and from the pulpits of some of our churches. Local pastors under the instruction of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a lobbying group from Charleston, with ties nationally to Focus on the Family, pushed the bathroom predator myth throughout the community spreading lies and playing on people’s worst fears. This is the same myth that has descended on North Carolina and Texas like a plague causing billions in economic losses. These groups put unbearable pressure on a brand-new Mayor and mostly new city council. The Mayor and Council were left scrambling for reasons to vote down the Non-Discrimination Ordinance with plausible deniability that it was not the influence of the radical religious right and the Family Policy council of West Virginia. Parkersburg’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance failed not because it was flawed or nebulous or lacked significant support from residents, businesses and organizations; but because religion reigned supreme and dominated our civic government. Parkersburg is the first city in West Virginia to reject a non-discrimination ordinance, a fact that will not go unnoticed by larger corporations interested in investing in Parkersburg. Much like what has happened in North Carolina and Texas, Parkersburg will be putting up the Closed for Business sign…for now.
It has been 10 days since the defeat of the NDO, but something truly amazing and historic happened at Parkersburg’s Homecoming Parade. Among the floats featuring various civic groups, youth sports teams and the like, a PRIDE float with the Fairness Parkersburg banner emerged and rolled down Market Street in all her colorful glory. Covered in Pride flags, we danced to our own music, waved, passed out candy and miniature rainbow flags. We ignored the hate and absorbed the love.
The hate started at the very beginning as we passed the Shiners adorned in their adorable fez hats shouting “bullshit!” at us. Kind of hard to take too seriously, so we blew our kisses and kept on moving. A few folks even told us to “go home” to which we replied, “we are home. The looks on their faces were priceless. Along the parade route we were humbled by the amount of love and support the people of Parkersburg showed us especially after the last six demoralizing months. By their reactions to us, we watched parents teach their children tolerance and acceptance and it was downright beautiful to experience. We also passed by those whose eyes were filled with tears and disbelief at what they were seeing and experiencing. The marginalized and those who can’t live their own truth openly were overcome with emotion at the sight of us and our unwavering resolve.
It must also be said that ALL of this could not be possible without our straight allies who have always been in solidarity with us, working for change and inclusion. Their love, support and willingness to shoulder the pain with us kept our efforts alive especially in times when giving
up would have been far easier than going through another buzz saw of dehumanizing speech at Parkersburg City Council meetings.
The events of the last six months didn’t break us. They made us stronger. We are not going away. This is our home too. We deserve the same rights as every other person living, working, and visiting Parkersburg. The fight must continue especially for the younger generation so they can live free from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. For now, we may have lost a battle. In the end, will win the war. Please join us, and let your voice be heard. Together, let’s plant the enduring flag of equality in Parkersburg.