“…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” our constitutional framers penned these words at the beginning of the constitution, as an introduction to the meaning of what our government is and what it means to the people of this great nation.
When we are children we are often taught the concept the “American Dream,” we are told that if we can set our mind to something that we can achieve it. Why? Because we live in America, the land of opportunity. Growing up, I never knew that that would some day come with an addendum. I did not understand that sometimes, simply because of who you are, that may be harder for you to attain. Currently, as the law in West Virginia stands, LGBTQ+ individuals have no workplace, housing, or public space protections. This means that tomorrow my boss could come into my workspace and fire me, because I have a male partner, and that that action would be perfectly legal. My landlord could serve an eviction notice, remove me from my place of residence, because I am gay. If I were to go to an adoption agency with a husband, the agency is legally allowed to deny me adoption rights because my child would have two fathers. It does not matter that I am a kind person who is active in my community, this one thing about me gives them the right to deny me my own.
Delegate Jim Butler recently wrote an opinion piece stating his objections to the proposed fairness act. Butler uses scare tactics to try and impress upon his constituents that bills like this seek to destroy religious freedom and liberty, and that this specific bill “seeks to give special protections to a particular group.” This bill would do no such thing. This bill would not allow an individual who is of one biological sex to compete in sport events in relation to a contrasting gender identity. This would not force you to give up your Christian values, and it would not take away your rights as a religious individual – which, is a protected class (rightfully so) under our state and federal laws. Being an LGBTQ+ individual is no more a choice than the color of your eyes, but religion, by definition is a conscious decision that is made by an individual over time. The only choice I made was to be happy and to accept who I am as a person.
It is troubling to me when a state official is evoking fear within his constituents who are in the majority population group, in order to spark aversion to protections proposed for those in the minority group. Butler states “It also troubles me that this meeting is taking place just before Christmas at a time when Biblical principles, and the basic First Amendment right of freedom of religion that the United States was founded upon, are under attack from many directions. I would also like to point out that a bill like this in in conflict with the West Virginia Republican Platform, but more importantly bills like this are in conflict with the values of the vast majority of West Virginians.”
This is nothing more than a fear tactic on Butler’s part. These laws do not attack anything that he has stated, in fact, many LGBTQ+ individuals are Christian themselves. Nowhere in the constitution does it explicitly say that this nation was founded upon the principals he claims it to be. For so long our laws have honored and given special treatment to those in the majority population groups, and as we have progressed as a nation we have started to add laws to protect and give rights to minority groups and those most vulnerable among us. Many accuse LGBTQ+ movements of “shoving it down [your] throats.” All we are asking is for the same protections and dignity that you have, how is that threatening to your way of life.
His words are quite insulting in a time where LGBTQ+ youth attempt suicide at an alarming rate, five times that of their heterosexual peers (CDC). At a time where trans individuals are being attacked and killed, and when gay young men are bullied to the point where they feel as if taking their own life is the answer. They do not do this because there is anything wrong with them, they do this because our society has time and time again denied them the basic right to human dignity and respect. When gay marriage was legalized suicide rates among gay teens saw a decline. States (22 so far) that have these protections in place have seen an even sharper decline. It’s time for West Virginia to catch up and not be the last in line in protecting some of our most vulnerable in our population. Christianity is not under attack by putting into law workplace, housing, and public space protections. However, LGBTQ+ individuals are at risk of being attacked in these spaces with no protections. It does not take away from your rights to give a minority group the same protections you take for granted – taken for granted so much that you forget they even exist.
I am a twenty-seven year old man; I am a teacher, a son, a friend, a West Virginian, and I am an American. I pay my taxes, participate in community enrichment, various organizations, and I care deeply about my state and country. My job is amazing, I care deeply about my students, and I do my best to model kindness and fairness within my classroom. On the weekends I like to read and prepare for my time in the classroom. During the summer I like to go hiking and work with local groups that benefit the youth in Delegate Butler’s community. I am an average American man, with dreams, and hopes for my future. At what point is it okay that this one aspect of who I am, an aspect that I cannot change, suddenly becomes the reason why I do not deserve the same dignity and right to certain goods and services as a straight American. If you agree with Butler, I want you to look at someone who is close in your life, who is LGBTQ+, and try to tell them that while you claim to cherish your relationship that it’s okay if they’re fired because they’re gay or evicted from their home. Look them in their eyes and tell them you respect them, but think it’s okay that your opinion is more important than their right to dignity and happiness.
I feel the need to state I believe in your right to practice your religion and to live accordingly. However, it should not be legal for you to deny me certain rights because you do not understand my life or agree with the validity of struggles you will never experience. A pastor who does not want to officiate a gay wedding shouldn’t have to, but court house officials with that power should not be able to deny that service because they serve the whole public. When you go into a public business, a public service industry, or the government you should be going into these spaces with the notion of serving the whole public. This includes LGBTQ+ individuals. The same arguments have been used to deny many groups rights for centuries, it’s time that we abandon those ignorances and move forward. LGBTQ+ people do not want to be treated special, or above anyone else, we just want to be treated fairly and with dignity, that is all we ask. Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers are always free, there should never be an asterisk attached to that.
Ethan Bartlett of Point Pleasant, is an educator in Mason County.