WVa lawmaker faces fresh criticism for discrimination stance
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker in West Virginia who resigned after posting an anti-gay slur but then was re-elected is drawing fresh criticism for an extended online diatribe opposing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
House Delegate John Mandt said in a now-deleted Facebook post last week that he opposed the proposal known as the Fairness Act.
“Oftentimes evil cloaks itself in pleasant sounding terms, and that is exactly what the Fairness Act does,” Mandt wrote. “There is nothing fair about it.”
Republican Delegate Joshua Higginbotham has said he would be the lead sponsor of the legislation, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public spaces. Similar protections exist in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Mandt said the proposal “falsely claims to be a civil rights bill about fairness in employment and housing” and “forces people of faith into a position where they must choose between faith or unjust government persecution.”
Mandt also said that “every person deserves to be treated with dignity, but not all behavior is dignified.”
While the proposal “ignores biology, it favors gender-confused males and it places our state’s women and girls in harm’s way, especially in intimate spaces previously reserved for females,” Mandt wrote.
Mandt’s comments drew immediate criticism from at least one other delegate, the state Democratic Party and from Fairness West Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
“This is why I walk with my head held high and my Gay Pride flag on my desk in the House Chambers,” Democratic Delegate Cody Thompson, an openly gay man, wrote on Twitter. “So others like me know they have a representative in state government.”
State Democratic Party chairwoman Belinda Biafore said Mandt’s comments were “disturbing and dangerous.”
Fairness West Virginia executive director Andrew Schneider said “words have power, and Del. Mandt’s words only encourage the discrimination and prejudice that LGBTQ people experience on a daily basis.”
The proposal has picked up more support since Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo co-introduced it in 2019. Republican Gov. Jim Justice said in a candidates’ debate last year that he would sign the bill if it passes.
Mandt stepped down as a House delegate in the heat of his reelection campaign last October after screenshots emerged of him using an anti-gay slur in a Facebook Messenger group. It had been the latest in a series of discriminatory remarks the state delegate had made about gay people and Muslims.
Then the conservative small business owner reversed his decision to bow out of the race, going on to win re-election to represent Cabell County. The November election produced a supermajority for Republicans in the legislature after several upset victories over Democrats. Lawmakers open a 60-day session on Wednesday.
In October, Republican House speaker Roger Hanshaw declared bigotry has no place in the state and said Mandt had taken the “the best course of action” in resigning.
But after Mandt won his seat back, Hanshaw named him vice chair of a committee on small businesses and economic development.
“I don’t know what I can say, beyond Delegate Mandt does have committee assignments,” Hanshaw said Wednesday.
The owner of a hot dog vendor popular in Huntington, Mandt had a first term marked by controversies.
In 2019, he took to Facebook to attack a vigil honoring the victims of a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand. Hundreds denounced his comments in a petition calling on Marshall University to cut ties with the restaurant Mandt owns, Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs. The university’s food contractor dropped his business.
Screenshots of Mandt using a gay slur in a Facebook Messenger group chat in early October prompted his resignation. He first claimed his comments were fabricated, then said he meant them as a joke.
In November, he finished third among six candidates in a contest that gave the top three vote-getters seats in the 16th District.
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