For me, and probably for most of you, Fairmont, West Virginia is merely a dot on the map. It’s a small town nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling mountains. It’s a place you’d call cute as you passed through it. In downtown Fairmont, the large, well-kept buildings house antique stores, coffee shops, and local businesses. You can drive southwest down Fairmont Avenue into a more commercialized area and grab yourself McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s the town you grew up in; it’s the town you pass through, it could be anywhere, U.S.A — unique and, yet also uniform.
In August, this typical American town began to divide. But why should you care? Fairmont is just a dot on the map. It’s a pass-through place. Who cares about Fairmont except for Fairmont? Well, you should. Because the division in Fairmont is the same battle that is being fought all over our country. The division started with an ordinance. This ordinance was simply to re-establish a commission to promote tolerance. A commission that would work to ensure that every resident of Fairmont received fair treatment.
How could a community fight such an ordinance? How could anyone with a good heart not want to promote tolerance?
Most people wouldn’t unless they were misinformed and afraid. How do you make people afraid of tolerance? That’s where the Family Policy Council of West Virginia comes in. They create division under the guise of Christianity, a division that feeds on fear and discrimination. When minorities ask to receive equal rights and protections, groups like the Family Policy Council of West Virginia paints them as predators. That’s exactly what happened in Fairmont.
What is the ordinance?
In January of 2017, a group of Fairmont residents set out to repeal and replace Article 175, originally passed in November 1978. The article created a human rights commission. It was decided to repeal the former ordinance because it did give the commission some legal power such as the ability to issue cease and desist orders and hold hearings. “The group felt that it’s better to engage opponents of civil rights with arguments, information and human contact rather resorting to the force of legal procedures,” explained Warren Hilsbos, one of the members of the group.
It was decided that the new commission would advise and educate the community about tolerance. Under the duties and powers listed in the new ordinance, you will find the powers of the commission to include*(see full duties and powers below):
- Cooperate with government to promote harmonious understanding of equal rights,
- Enlist community groups in creating programs to promote tolerance,
- Provide recommendations to city council in human rights matters,
- Create committees to study discrimination and to foster good will among groups and recommend education programs to the city council,
- Seek contributions to aid their work,
- Create workshops and publications to share information gathered about discrimination.
In short, the ordinance gives the commission the power to study discrimination and promote tolerance.
Are you scared yet? Yeah, me neither.
In March the group proposing the new ordinance conducted a survey and found 25 percent of respondents faced discrimination in housing and 40 percent faced discrimination in employment. Their results validated the need for the commission. They conducted a working session with the Fairmont city council in May. Working sessions are typically privately held meetings, so quietly they went into the summer.
Feeding on Division
Then came August, the city council held a public meeting for the second reading and procedural vote to have a public hearing on the ordinance. And Fairmont began to splinter — those who opposed the ordinance and those who supported it.
Again, why would a community oppose such a benign ordinance?
I didn’t mention that the new ordinance had an addition to its list of reasons you can’t discriminate against someone. Sexual orientation and gender identity were added. Not only would this group educate and advise the community about tolerance for race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness or handicap, but they’d also educate and advise about sexual orientation and gender identity. You see, Family Policy Council now has their big, bad wolf.
After the public hearing, the local newspaper ran an article with a heavy emphasis on the LGBTQ aspect of the ordinance. Heads up, not the best thing to do in small town West Virgina. One commenter wrote, “This is wrong. If I were to own an apartment, and an openly gay couple wanted to rent from me, I would not rent to them, as I will not support the same-sex relationship. Just as I would not bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding. This is not discrimination. This is simply standing up for my Christian beliefs.” While another responded, “It’s not anybody’s place to judge those who live a different lifestyle. Forcing your religious beliefs on people that don’t share them is discriminatory against them, not you.” Can you hear the cracks begin to form? The Family Policy Council sure did. The sound of homophobia was like Gabriel’s horn for them, rapturing them into a hate frenzy.
When Family Policy Council posted the ordinance article to their Facebook page they wrote, “Fairmont WV latest city to consider allowing men into little girl’s showers and baths.” This statement is completely false (see complete ordinance). But damn, doesn’t it sound scary? Nobody wants men in little girl’s showers. Fear and panic began to spread. The thread received 125 comments. Bill Brackman posted, “If my Granddaughters go into the bathroom and a man goes in, he will come out a woman. Know what I mean?” Family Policy Council replied, “No Bill Brackman you won’t do a thing. Just like most dads and husbands who talk big on here, none of you will be there when it happens. NOW is the time to fight, before it happens.” The Family Policy Council is taunting Bill and then asking him to fight.
The trans bathroom issue has been a national debate for a couple of years. Let me interject some sense into this debate. Public nudity is illegal and touching someone without consent is illegal. No matter what restroom you or your children use, this should not happen and if it does you are protected by the law. The trans bathroom issue is really a non-issue. However, in town where the trans population is most likely minimal, it works to incite fear. They are using my identity as a weapon against equality, and it is working.
Part 2: Get the pitchforks out: Anti-LGTBQ group uses lies to divide a town
In the next part of this series, I cover what happened after the Family Policy Council began their campaign against ordinance 175, including the city council’s hearing where 51 community members spoke against the ordinance.
Follow me on Twitter @leo_caldwell and read more of my work at leocaldwell.com.
*Powers and Duties of the Human Rights Commission
The Human Rights Commission is hereby authorized and empowered:
(a) To cooperate and work with Federal, State and Local Government officers, units, activities and agencies in the promotion and attainment of more harmonious understanding and greater equality of rights between and among all persons regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, blindness or handicap;
(b) To enlist the cooperation of racial, religious and ethnic units, community and civic organizations, industrial and labor organizations, and other identifiable groups of the City in programs and campaigns devoted to the education and advancement of tolerance, understanding and equal protection of the laws for all groups and peoples regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, blindness or handicap.;
© To recommend to Council policies, procedures, practices and legislation in matters and questions affecting human rights and relations;
(d) To create such committees and sub-committees from within the Commission and its volunteers, which in its judgment will aid in effectuating the purposes of this article, to study the problem of discrimination in all fields of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, blindness or handicap; to foster, through community effort or otherwise, good will, cooperation and conciliation among the groups and elements of the population of this City, and to make recommendations to the Commission for the development and implementation of programs of formal and informal education.
(e) To accept contributions from any person, private corporation, or governmental agency, including the City of Fairmont as part of its budgetary process, to assist in the effectuation of the purposes of this Article and to apply for grants and other funding, and to seek and enlist the cooperation and support of private, public, governmental, charitable, religious, labor, civic and benevolent organizations for the purposes of this section;
(f) To hold, formulate, and develop forums, workshops, and opportunities to allow for the dissemination, sharing, and discussion of information to the understanding and work of the Commission and which will tend to promote good will and minimize or eliminate discrimination;
(g) To issue such publications and results of research as in its judgment will tend to promote good will and minimize or eliminate discrimination;
(l) Pursuant to the “Sunshine Law”, West Virginia Code 6–9A-1 et seq., meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public.