POLITICS

West Virginia Considering Bill To Block Local Governments From Extending LGBT Protections

02/25/2015 06:11 pm ET | Updated Feb 25, 2015

The West Virginia House of Delegates is considering a bill that would eliminate several LGBT anti-discrimination measures passed in the state.

The legislation would prohibit local governments from enacting anti-discrimination protections that are different from those in place at the state level. West Virginia's current anti-discrimination protections do not extend to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. The law would also nullify anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals that are currently in place in six communities, including Charleston, the state's biggest city.

According to the bill's text, the prohibition is an attempt to benefit businesses in the state by ensuring that employers are subject to uniform anti-discrimination protections.

But Andrew Schneider, executive director of the advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, said the bill is "anything but a pro-business bill."

"It would strip the right of communities from making their towns and cities more inclusive. And these days the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies are establishing policies that they don't discriminate against anyone including LGBT employees," he told The Huffington Post. "No one wants to move their company to a close-minded hostile environment.

"If West Virginia starts to create this perception that we promote discrimination, then we're not going to be open for business. We are shutting the door on business by doing that."

Del. Lynne Arvon (R), who introduced the bill Monday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legislation was presented in the same week that a similar bill banning protections for LGBT individuals became law in Arkansas.

Beyond being bad for business and promoting discrimination, Schneider added, the West Virginia bill would usurp the ability of local governments to pass their own laws and develop solutions for their specific communities.

"Cities and towns are entitled to do what is right for them," he said. "This seems to fly in the face of the principles of the democratic process."

The bill also comes just a few weeks after the tiny, five-person town of Thurmond, West Virginia, voted to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination.

After Thurmond passed its anti-discrimination measure, Schneider told The Huffington Post that it was clear there was a "movement afoot" to establish similar protections in the state.

Asked if the statewide bill was a response to recent momentum for LGBT protections, Schneider said Wednesday, "I think that there's part of that, you know, people out there who would like to hold on to the status quo of discrimination ... They don't want to see the world evolve to one of inclusiveness and acceptance."

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