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Charles Town Council to discuss gender identity ordinance

By Staff | Jan 8, 2016

The City of Charles Town is next on the list of towns within West Virginia to discuss a possible adoption of a new anti-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance, according to documents on the town’s website, is the same that has recently been adopted by Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry that provides equal opportunity in the areas of employment and public accommodations for all without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness, handicap or sexual orientation and gender identity.

The current ordinance and one for the state as a whole, protects citizens on all counts except for sexual orientation and gender identity specifically.

The proposed amendment to the Charles Town code was requested by Andrew Skinner and Stephen Skinner, according to the town website.

Although the council did not specifically discuss the ordinance proposal at their Monday evening meeting, there were members of the public present to comment against the adoption of such an ordinance.

County resident Nathan Nicholson questioned the proposal by the Skinner Law Firm.

“As a [town] council, you need to ask yourself, ‘What is this law firm’s motive for introducing such an ordinance?’,” Nicholson said during public comment.

He went on to say, “Why would the council, who is supposed to represent the people and promote businesses, adopt a document that creates a hostile environment in which anyone can shout ‘discrimination’ by simply claiming a status that cannot be proven in a court of law.”

Within the proposed ordinance there exists a list of definitions, one of which describes “Sexual Orientation means actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Gender Identity means actual or perceived appearance, or behavior of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Nicholson questioned the litmus test to prove someone is a practicing homosexual. He voiced concern that anyone who is terminated from a job for any reason could immediately cry discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation-something that cannot be proven in a court of law.

Known in other areas as the “bathroom bill,” similar proposed ordinances have drawn concern around the state and the country alluding to the idea that individuals who “perceive themselves” as one gender or another have unlimited access to public restrooms, locker rooms and other areas that are typically divided by male and female.

Proponents of the ordinance in other areas claim there is no known basis for concern of such instances of pedophiles or others seeking to do harm to children or females by entering a female restroom.

Nicholson addressed the concern by asking the mayor and council “What civil society would even entertain letting a man walk into a woman’s restroom? How many of you sitting here are comfortable with your daughter, your wife, your grandmother’s privacy being violated, or worse?”

Father Alvin Baker, a member of a local monastery located in Charles Town also spoke against the approval of the ordinance.

“We are concerned about freedom of religion,” Baker said Monday. “The ordinance being proposed will discriminate against those with traditional values. We ask the council to look how it will affect both parties,” he continued.

While the ordinance focuses on anti-discrimination based on housing, employment and the like, there is wording in the proposal that indicated that those who “publish, circulate, issue, display, post or mail, either directly or indirectly, any written or printed communication, notice or advertisme4net to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities….” would be committing unlawful acts. The general wording has some concerned over the passage of such an ordinance wondering how it would affect local pastors who speak out against the issue.

The council set a workshop on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. at City Hall to begin discussions on whether they will consider a vote on the proposed ordinance.

Mayor Peggy Smith said Monday that she and council members have already begun to receive an influx of letters and emails concerning the proposed ordinance from not only local residents but from around the state.