The 80th Legislature failed last year to pass the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act (EHNDA) again. Passage of this bill would have added sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the existing Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, which currently covers race, creed, disability and sex. Why does this matter?
The Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law School, found that there are over 25,000 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) workers in this state. All of these workers could be legally fired or evicted simply because of their sexual orientation or their perceived orientation. That's right, an employer or landlord could evict or fire you if they just think you are gay. There are probably many more; lots of people are afraid to say that they are gay, and for good reason.
The cities of Charleston, Morgantown, Harpers Ferry, Buchannon and now Huntington have amended their Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as have the state's two flagship universities.
I have been openly gay for most of my life, but I did not choose to be gay. I did choose to live my life as best I could, given the hand I was dealt. When I was growing up, no one asked me if I wanted to be gay or straight or bisexual, or transgender. Did someone ask you?
Let me just pose this question to you: What person in his right mind would actually choose to be a member of one of the most hated minorities in the world? The short answer is that no one would.
Despite living in a democratically based republic, where all people are "equal," there are thousands of people who cannot be openly gay. They live in fear that they will be fired from their jobs, rejected by their families, denied housing, or be physically and mentally abused.
We do not ask for "gay rights" or "special rights." We ask for the same civil rights that all citizens of our country enjoy. We ask for the right to marry, we ask for the right not to be discriminated against when we look for employment or housing, we ask for the right to be protected from people who commit hate crimes. These are not "gay rights;" these are civil rights, constitutional rights guaranteed to every citizen of the United States of America.
We have done a good job over the past 40 years to show the worldwide community that we exist everywhere that humans exist and have since the beginning of time. We need to show that we bleed when we are cut, that we want to be respected, that we cry when we are hurt, that we yearn to love and be loved, that we feel pain, that we want to be a part of society and that, in fact, we are just like you. We are your brothers, we are your sisters, we are your mothers, we are your fathers and most importantly, we are your children.
On behalf of the LGBT citizens of this state, I urge the Legislature to do the right thing and pass the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act (EHNDA) in the 81st session.
Charleston Human Rights Commission