West Virginia advocacy groups are reacting to a new federal ruling that further protects the LGBT community. A Thursday ruling by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has deemed discrimination against workers based on sexual orientation illegal.
Under current law, West Virginia does not protect LGBT persons from being fired or discriminated against at work, but the new ruling by the EEOC extends those protections to citizens across the country.
In regards to Thursday's decision, a similar ruling was handed down in 2012, when the EEOC determined that transgender workers were protected from discrimination.
Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, called the ruling groundbreaking but said protections are also needed on the state level. According to Buzzfeed, the commission ruled that gender identity-based discrimination is barred by the sex discrimination ban.
“This is a significant development because protections for gay and transgender people are almost nonexistent in federal law and in 28 states, including West Virginia,” Meinig said.
“Shockingly, there are no explicit protections civil rights protections for LGBT folks on the books in terms of employment."
Meinig says the ACLU of West Virginia, along with LGBT advocacy group Fairness West Virginia plan to lobby for state legislation that ensures employment, housing and other public accommodation protections for the LGBT community.
Fairness West Virginia executive director Andrew Schneider echoed Meinig’s belief that there is still work to be done on the state level.
“You’re going to see us trying to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s human rights code. Simply not having it in there is, in a way, giving a green light to those who are prejudice, those who are biased and those who are homophobic to act out those prejudices in actions that should be unlawful,” Schneider said.
“That’s unlawful now under the EEOC ruling, but it should be unlawful under state code,” he added.
Schneider pointed to a 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling that showed 68 percent of West Virginians said discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity should not be allowed.
A bill known as EHNDA--the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act--has been introduced in West Virginia in multiple legislative sessions over the past few years. That legislation has sought to provide employment and housing protections for the LGBT community. However, various versions of the bill have failed repeatedly.
Calls seeking comment from the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a conservative policy group that has argued against LGBT protections in housing and employment, were not immediately returned.