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SOGI Concerns

By Staff | Feb 12, 2016

Shepherdstown is considering following a few municipalities in West Virginia to adopt a municipal level non-discrimination ordinances that varies from state and federal civil rights laws by adding sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”). The effort to adopt these ordinances at local levels is an effort by national organizations who have failed to convince federal and state lawmakers that persons who identify as LGBT etc are in need unique protections in civil rights laws. But West Virginia already has a strong human rights act and a state level human rights commission that protects vulnerable populations from discrimination in employment and housing and public accommodation. Federal Laws have also been interpreted to permit people who claim to be discriminated against because of SOGI issues (see the Federal EEOC website).

Is there really need for a special ordinance? My understanding of Shepherdstown is as distinguished itself as an inclusive town and quite welcoming for members of the LGBT community. If there was wide spread discrimination against people in employment, housing or other areas it would be widespread and notorious but it isn’t. Experience from other cities also shows that the ordinance isn’t really needed. For example the city of Phoenix, Arizona passed a SOGI ordinance two years ago. In two years only four complaints have been made all of which were reportedly dismissed.

In some places where these ordinances have been passed, however, there are high profile offensive litigation taken up by activists. These law suits have targeted people of faith, primarily Christians, who simply declined to participate in a same sex wedding ceremony on the basis that to do so violates their religious convictions. Does Shepherdstown want to invite these kinds of law suits? Does Shepherds Town intend to force people to violate their religious convictions? Polls show that over 80 percent of Americans agree that no one should be forced to violate their religious convictions by the government.

In Houston a SOGI was repealed by overwhelming popular vote but before repeal, the Mayor infringed on the free speech rights and religious freedom of pastors by ordering them to submit their sermons for review by the city attorney. Passing laws to silence people you disagree with or to advance one particular group at the expense of another isn’t a recipe for a peaceful, inclusive and welcoming community.

Perhaps the biggest concern regarding SOGI laws is that it could be used to permit men to legally enter women’s restrooms under the guise that they are transgendered, even if they aren’t. There have been reports of rape and sexual assault by persons (both transgendered and not transgendered) who have used SOGI laws to gain access to sex segregated facilities. Parents are concerned that school bathrooms and locker rooms will affecting their children’s privacy and safety.

There are other ways to encourage respect for the inherent dignity of all persons than passing these kinds of laws. SOGI laws confuse rather than clarify and Shepherdstown should reconsider this approach or at the very least address these legitimate concerns with amendments to the ordinance.

Michael Donnelly

Jefferson County resident