The January 3, 2019 meeting of Buckhannon City Council included, on its agenda, Ordinance 434, which would extend equal protections to the LGBTQ community for housing, employment and business practices in Buckhannon. The ordinance, proposed by Mayor David McCauley in conjunction with Upshur County Schools and West Virginia Wesleyan College, failed to pass the first reading by a narrow 4-3 vote. Council members McCauley, Rylands, and Albaugh voted for it, and Cuppari, Skinner, Reger, and Thomas voted against.
At the beginning of the meeting, before hearing from the 28 people assembled to speak both for and against the ordinance, each council member, publicly, expressed their favoritism or opposition for the ordinance in an informal vote. At the end of the meeting, when the official vote was cast, after hearing 14 people speak in favor of the ordinance and 14 people speak against it, their opinions had not changed, as was reflected in their vote.“It’s strange that a vote was taken before all this discussion,” stated constituent Mike Oldaker, “It’s kind of like, what are we doing here?” he continued. Oldaker described business research stating that diversity is the impetus of innovation. Oldaker surmised that there seemed to be much misinformation. “To me, this a barometer of where we are as a community with inclusiveness…. like any social justice issue, through time, perhaps our community will rise to the occasion.”
Community member Jacob Rose told a personal story about being discriminated against in Buckhannon when a local shop refused to sell him a dress for his sister because he is gay. He equated this to “ignorance and hate.” What is in place to protect me?” he asked. “I am all for this ordinance. Please, help us.”
Business owner, Lauren Lamb, said, “In short, I’ve managed to bring in large clients such as WVUMedicine to work with Buckhannon like Stone Tower Brews and True Solar…and when I decide to open a brick and mortar business… why would I choose a place that didn’t, not only support, but embrace, the person that I am?”
Brett Harman urged council to pass the ordinance saying, “Our council members have a choice, they can move Buckhannon forward and be a leader in the state in being what a supportive community should be, or they can choose to support and promote hate that sends a message that all are not welcome in Buckhannon. “
Former Senator Robert Karnes spoke against the ordinance.
Adam Burkhammer, Assistant Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, stated: “Physical anatomy tells me these things aren’t right. We must stop this rot. We would never condone drunk driving, stealing from our neighbor, or child molestation. You say these things would never come up, but I believe years ago people would have never thought we would be here today having this discussion….” Amen erupted in the crowd. He continued, “We love everyone and hate no one…. A few are coming against the most.”
Reverend Eddie McDaniels spoke out against the ordinance but encouraged everyone to get along: “Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.” He went on to explain that Jesus called upon us to love even our enemies; he added that he was happy about what the ordinance said about the church, referencing the two clauses that exempted churches from the ordinance. Reverend McDaniels said that he’d like to say that Hate Has No Home Here, so don’t hate me just because I am a right-wing, narrow-minded conservative.” It went on record as being against the ordinance.
Matt Wood spoke against the ordinance because of what he believes is freedom of religion while Rob Allen stated, “Not too long ago a person would have been beat down just for saying they have a certain lifestyle. When I grew up that was the case and it was really unfortunate…. At the same time, there’s been Christians burned alive for their beliefs…. What have you read in the Bible that makes you (a gay person) think this is not a sin? As a Christian, I don’t believe in what you’re doing. I hear a lot of people calling themselves Christian…and they’re no way close. Get in your Bible and read it yourself… If you (a gay person) should be in my church that I attend, sure come on in. You wouldn’t be in my church… or you’d be repenting and trying to change your lifestyle just like an addict or a child molester or a father who doesn’t provide for his family.”
Allen Whitt, President of Family Policy Council of WV, stated that what this ordinance does is give a legal hammer to one side” and warned of unjust persecution because “my thoughts are diverse from yours.” He praised Councilman Skinner for his moving speech. Family Policy Council of WV is, according their website: “The Mountain State’s leading conservative policy group championing social issues.” They claim to “positively influence state laws, state lawmakers and state elections to defend the constitutional right of religious freedom for our families and churches.” They continue: “We also partner occasionally with the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. on urgent federal policy issues that impact West Virginia.” The group has since posted a video of the Buckhannon council vote to their website along with an article entitled, “Buckhannon, Third WV City to Defeat ‘Men in Ladies Room’ Ordinance.” Several other speakers against the ordinance were with Family Policy Council of WV.
Family Research Council (FRC), the affiliate group of Family Policy Council of WV per their website, is an identified hate group, according to Southern Poverty Law Center. The group goes from town to town to thwart nondiscrimination ordinances in WV. Whitt stated that the Buckhannon meeting was his seventh or eighth time speaking in various locations against these nondiscrimination ordinances. Southern Poverty Law Center states: “The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people as the organization battles against same-sex marriage, hate crime laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.”
Two speakers from Fairness WV who identified themselves as LGBTQ also addressed the council and crowd asking for support of the ordinance. Fairness WV describes themselves as “the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians. Our mission is to ensure LGBT people can be open, honest and safe at home, at work, and in the community. We are open to everyone who believes in fundamental fairness.”
Neither Family Policy Council nor Southern Poverty Law Center responded to questions regarding this statement. Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of Fairness WV, stated regarding the outcome: “We are obviously saddened by the outcome in Buckhannon. It’s unfortunate that a majority of council members sided with speakers who espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories and offensively likened the LGBT community to child molesters and drunk drivers. However, just a few days after the setback in Buckhannon, we saw a majority of Beckley Common Council reject hate speech and vote in favor of a municipal nondiscrimination ordinance…. We are encouraged.”
Skinner, who spoke out first to adamantly oppose the ordinance, has since stated that “Our responsibility now is to bring our community together. I, wholeheartedly, believe there are other ways to improve the atmosphere, promoting a way of life of acceptance in Buckhannon. I do not know what the way forward looks like yet, but I am certainly willing to have discussions, and work toward a solution that benefits all in our community, but free from drafting another ordinance.” Skinner reiterated that he is not in favor of discrimination.
In response to the rejected ordinance, McCauley stated: “I’m sorely disappointed that any segment of our community is left to feel marginalized here. I remain committed to treating all people in Buckhannon with tolerance, respect, and appreciation of our differences one from another. I campaigned in 2016 with my credo being that our city would be competent, inclusive, transparent, and efficient. Nothing respecting that commitment changed on January 3.”
Buckhannon Pride, Upshur County Schools nor West Virginia Wesleyan provided statements though asked.