UPDATE: Supporters of non-discrimination ordinance say they'll continue to fight

Published: Apr. 11, 2016 at 9:46 PM EDT
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8/9/2017 3:20 P.M.

Supporters of a non-discrimination law for the city of Parkersburg say they're not giving up the fight.

That, after city council Tuesday voted down an ordinance that had been heavily debated for the past five months.

"We will remember. We will not go away," backer Jeanne Peters declared Wednesday."We will continue to fight for equal rights for all citizens for as long as it requires. We're not going away. We're not going back into the closet."

The backers say they're looking at other possible ways to pub the measure into law, perhaps including a voter referendum.

Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes, however, says legislation is the only way a non-discrimination law could be put into effect.

Two council members Tuesday night said backers of the idea rejected council's offer to negotiate changes in the wording of the measure.

"They don't want to sit down with us," said District #1 Councilman Dave McCrady, "or they did not want to sit down with a moderator and work something out that they could bring back to council, so that we could ask council to agree on it."

Peters, of Fairness Parkersburg, said an effort was made to negotiate with council on the issue.

But, she added supporters later believed any talks "were not likely to produce the desired results for anyone-including the city."

8/8/2017 10:00 P.M.

After months of discussion, Parkersburg City Council votes against passage of a non-discrimination ordinance.

The measure failed, 6-3, with council members John Reed, Jeff Fox and J.R. Carpenter voting in favor of it.

It was intended to end discrimination "in the areas of employment, public accommodations, and the sale, lease rental and financing of housing accommodations for all persons without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, blindness, disability, genetic information, familial status, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity."

Mayor Tom Joyce began Tuesday night's council meeting recommending it reject the proposed law, citing problems with the measure.

"There could be unintended consequences with regard to the burdens on our small businesses," the mayor said in his "message from the executive". "I have heard overwhelming opposition from the small business community and citizens alike to this ordinance."

"I'm disappointed in the mayor and the way he predjudiced the vote tonight," said Jeanne Peters of Fairness Parkersburg, a major supporter of the proposed law. "I am heartbroken that the city chose to move into the past instead of moving into the future. I believe it is a shameful decision that the city will take a long time to live down."

The vote came after, once again, numerous people on both sides of the issue commented on the proposal.

Prior to rejecting the ordinance, itself, which was up for its first reading, council voted against a proposed amendment removing the words "public accomodations" from its wording.

That was a reference, to which some speakers also raised questions, to the issue of use of public restrooms.

On another issue, council Tuesday night referred to its Public Works committee, an ordinance regulating outdoor dining on public sidewalks in the downtown area.

That measure was amended at council's meeting July 25, but Mayor Joyce recommended tabling the measure over concerns of how it might affect disabled residents using those sidewalks.


It's been months since a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Parkersburg was first addressed at city council.

Tuesday night, that all changed. Council decided after hearing from groups on both sides of the issue, they'll put the measure back on the table in August.

Before council's regularly scheduled meeting, council members listened to a half hour presentation from a group called Liberty PKB. The organization is made up of residents, churches, and small businesses against the non-discrimination ordinance.

During the speech, speakers touched on the potential legal issues of passing it. The group says it invites more regulations, which could hurt current businesses and turn away new ones.

After this presentation, council went on to have its regular meeting. During this time, they approved a resolution to change the dates of Riverfest at Point Park to September 15, 16 and 17 to allow for beer and wine to be served.

"We feel like it's a small group of people who claim to be fair fighting against a large group of people who don't feel that we're being unfair to their community already and so we definitely feel that this is an action that will have consequences that will go way beyond the realm of what is written on that piece of paper," said Brian Harrell, pastor of Liberty Street Church.

Parkersburg City Council will discuss the non-discrimination ordinance at its meeting Tuesday, August 8, 2017. It will be a first reading.

A variety of outcomes are possible. It could either pass and go for a second and final reading or it could die.

If it died, council could bring it back up again with the support of three members. However, it would need to be significantly changed according to the standards set by the city's attorney.

Tuesday, an organization in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance in Parkersburg got a chance to present to city council. Later in July, a group against it will have the same opportunity.

The presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, July 25. Those in support of Liberty PKB argue that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals have a choice to lead this kind of lifestyle.

They don't believe it's a characteristic. Supporters of the group say the NDO unfairly gives protections to those who identify as LGBT, while discriminating against those with moral or religious objections to this.

"I know that they think we are guising everything with bigotry and hatred, but it is not the case. The case is that we're concerned, we believe this is a Trojan Horse. We think that there are very well-meaning people, but let's face it. If you've lived in the city for any length of time, and I have lived here for quite awhile, this has always been a very inviting city," said Daniel Stevens, a member of Liberty PKB.

Liberty PKB presented council with nearly 5,000 signatures opposed to the ordinance during Tuesday night's meeting.

UPDATE 7/11/17 9:39 PM

The organization Fairness for Parkersburg presented to Parkersburg City Council Tuesday night before its regularly scheduled meeting.

During the presentation, members of the group clarified what a non-discrimination ordinance stands for and how the city could benefit from passing it.

One of the first points they made is the importance of separation of church and state. They then moved on to describe how this ordinance is meant to prevent discrimination in areas of housing and public employment.

While it would cost nothing to enact an NDO, it could have a high economic yield for the city. According to statistics, 70 percent of millennials say they'd like to live in cities with welcoming policies.

"We feel that it is long overdue in Parkersburg. We feel that Parkersburg wants to be an inclusive city and wants to grow and wants to attract new people and new businesses here and the best way to do that is to make it a city that welcomes everyone. It is the trend. Beyond being a trend, it is the future," said Jeanne Peters, Fairness for Parkersburg member.

Some of the people at the meeting against the ordinance say the city doesn't need it because they've never seen discrimination like this or experienced it.

A stalled topic discussed at Parkersburg City Council is still getting a lot of reaction from the community.

A non-discrimination ordinance was first introduced at council in March. In its original form, it meant to recognize equal opportunity in areas like employment, housing and public accommodations for all persons without regard to gender identity, sexual orientation and similar factors.

So many people came to that meeting, protocol about how many people can fit inside council chambers had to be addressed afterwards. Currently, the ordinance is in limbo, sitting in a committee.

"There are generational differences in support and non-support for the ordinance. I think what we'll find is that younger people have more or less grown up with more diversity in their life and are a little more open-minded than someone my age or older might be," said Jeff Fox, Parkersburg City councilman.

It could remain there indefinitely. It would take a majority vote by council or an action by chairman Mike Reynolds to bring it back up.

Parkersburg City Council's Tuesday meeting includes the first reading of a non-discrimination policy.

Some church groups are planning to protest it, while some council members say they want to clear up confusion about what the ordinance actually implies.

In its current form, it recognizes equal opportunity in the areas of employment, housing accommodations and public accommodations for all persons without regard to gender identity, sexual orientation and other simliar factors.

The public accommodations portion is what's troubling some people. Some think this applies to the transgender bathroom issue, similar to North Carolina's case.

Council is hoping to clear up this confusion.

"Presently, transgender people in West Virginia and all throughout the country are permitted to go in the bathroom of their choice. The bill in North Carolina prohibited that and made them go based on their birth certificate. This does not allow men to go into women's restrooms anymore than it does now," said John Reed, District 7 councilman.

"God tells us that we're all sinners so we're all on the same level field, but as far as having to endorse and embrace a particular lifestyle and force us to actually accommodate that, we would be against that. I think it actually promotes divisiveness," said Daniel Stevens, the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Parkersburg.

Eleven other cities in West Virginia have passed non-discrimination policies.

Parkersburg residents met with a state-wide civil rights group about making the city more inclusive.

Fairness West Virginia spoke with the community about passing a non-discrimination ordinance to protect the rights of the LGBT community.

The civil rights organization says as of now, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected in housing and employment.

Without these protections, Fairness West Virginia says the city is losing young, talented people who move to more inclusive areas.

Nineteen states have non-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation, and Fairness West Virginia says the Mountain State could become the twentieth, if more cities pass these ordinances.

"It's not just about protecting your residents, your citizens immediately," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. "It's also the long term game of ultimately getting the state to act and providing those protections for everyone."

Multiple city councilmen and women attended Monday's meeting, including District Four's Councilwoman Kim Coram.

She says she has begun legislation to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance, and is waiting on signatures to introduce it to council.