As a parent of two teenagers, I have many hopes for my offspring. I want them to be successful in all of their endeavors. I want them to struggle just enough to learn the important lessons but not enough they find themselves looking at the world from the bottom of a barrel. I am prepared to support my children through all their challenges. I will accept their life choices as just that, their choices. I feel that all people are happiest when encouraged and accepted for who they are, but I hope my children are not gay.
This hope is not born of any religious value nor any “ick” feeling I have towards same sex relationships. This hope does not reek of judgment or even fear and misunderstanding. I hope my children are not gay because being gay in America is hard. We hear terms like “gay agenda” and “Gaystapo,” some phantom ideal just trying to force itself on good righteous Americans. Organizations such as Family Policy Council and Focus on the Family warn us that SOGI, or non-discrimination laws, are aimed at getting men in the ladies room.
I sat down with Joe Merceruio at the Daily Grind to see what the fuss was all about. Joe is a Martinsburg board member of Fairness West Virginia, which aims to assist in molding West Virginia into a safe place where all members of the community can be open and honest about who they are. Joe has seen his share of discrimination. Bullied in high school for his sexual orientation, he left the area and entered the military, where the policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the way of things. I knew that Joe was gay, but his sexual identity is such a small part of who Joe Merceruio is. He is a father and partner in a long-term relationship. He is a man who has led an admirable life and is both engaging and delightful to those who are fortunate enough to know him.
Joe explained that as the West Virginia legislature has failed to secure protection for members of the LGBT community, Fairness West Virginia has been involved in a campaign to encouraging municipalities to pass ordinances prohibiting discrimination for employment, public accommodations and housing known as ENHDA (Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Acts). Simply put, one’s sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) is not a relevant factor in hiring or housing, and these laws would give members of the LGBT community a legal recourse if they are so discriminated against. Such laws have been proposed in several cities, including Martinsburg, Lewisburg and Charles Town. Other cities, such as Sutton, Morgantown and Thurmond have already adopted these ordinances. It was the Charles Town ordinance that I met with Joe to discuss.
Since Charles Town does not have its own dedicated local liaison, the ordinance was proposed by Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of Fairness West Virginia. The initial meeting with Council met with little backlash and apparent support by the Town Council, and was scheduled for a first and second reading in December. Unfortunately, fears were whipped into a frenzy by special action groups, and, like in Houston, Texas, an ordinance about the prevention of discrimination became a perceived pass for every sexual deviant in the area to gather in ladies restrooms. This fear is pushed onto citizens by groups such as Family Policy Council who ignore every other part of the ordinance and focus on the part that would allow someone to visit the restroom appropriate for their gender identity. The fact is that an individual with male genitalia, but who identifies as and is dressed like a female, is not safe in a men’s restroom and isn’t at all interested in gawking or exposing herself to anyone in the ladies room. She just wants to use the facilities without worry of harassment or assault. Unlike Houston, the ordinance in Charles Town is not defeated, but rather referred to a workshop for further discussion and community input.
I asked Joe if discrimination in the workplace is a reality for him today. Unfortunately, it is. He has been accused of flaunting his gay relationship because he had photos of himself, his husband and his children displayed in his office. He has been accused of displaying photos of himself in “gay clothes” in a photo taken at a walk for Breast Cancer awareness, in which he was wearing the traditional pink clothing associated with Breast Cancer Awareness. The Federal Government has identified sexuality as an innate characteristic, meaning it is not a choice any more than race, original gender or nationality. For this reason, SOGI laws and policies have been adopted as statewide initiatives, as part of the Federal government personnel practices and are standard operating procedure for a long list of Fortune 500 companies.
Why then, is it necessary to pass these ordinances on the local level? Joe and I discussed this at length: Many feel it is the right thing to do and that it is possible to respect the religions and ideals of all people without stomping on the civil rights of others. Secondly, talent stays where it is welcome. West Virginia suffers from significant “brain drain” which is when young, talented, educated individuals leave the area for better jobs in more accepting communities. The young gay professionals go where they are welcome and young straight professionals do not stay where their friends are shunned or mistreated.
Call your state legislators, call your local elected representatives, call your federal lawmakers and let them know that you will not stand for discrimination. It was not right during the Civil Rights movement and it is not right now! I want my children to be happy and I want to know I did my part to help create a world where happiness was not qualified by who they love.
The Rainbow Flag waving in the wind at San Francisco’s Castro District. Photo: Benson Kua. Image used through Wikimedia Commons