BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon city council voted down a much debated non-discrimination ordinance at the last city council meeting Jan. 3.
The vote was a narrow 4 to 3 after hours of discussion, but in the end ordinance number 434 was defeated on the first reading. The ordinance was described as “promoting a city-wide policy of all inclusiveness.”
This proposed ordinance was meant to protect people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. The ordinance said Buckhannon has always championed all inclusiveness regardless of a persons race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation or veterans status.
Council members Pam Cuppari, Colin Reger, Robbie Skinner and David Thomas voted against the ordinance and Mayor David McCauley, and council members CJ Rylands and Mary Albaugh voted in favor of the ordinance.
All of the council members spoke at the beginning of discussion to explain the direction their vote was leaning beginning with council member Skinner, who read prepared remarks.
“This is a no-win situation,” and it’s a proposal that should have never been placed on the agenda for consideration, Skinner said. “Let me be very clear… I in no way, shape, or form support any act of discrimination toward any member of the human race. Period. I do, however, fundamentally disagree with a municipal governing body passing social legislation on to our citizens and businesses.”
Skinner said he believes the council should focus on things such as investing in public safety departments, develop policies that foster economic growth and be good stewards of finances. Skinner said he did not think passing the ordinance would be one of the most important reasons for people to move to Buckhannon.
“It’s far more important that our school system have a strong reputation, that our hospital be on the cutting edge of the latest medical advancements, that our tax structure be competitive, that our real estate market be attractive, that our crime rate be low, that our public safety officers be well-trained and well-staffed, that our infrastructure be second-to-none,” Skinner said.
He said he does not think the city of Buckhannon needs an ordinance for the community to be kind to each other.
“We do not need an ordinance to tell us to be kind, to be heartfelt, to be compassionate, to be understanding, to be loving, or to be accepting,” Skinner said. “The most influential leaders in history were servant leaders. They dug deep, invested in their people, and worked among them to make a difference. Human nature dictates that we do not want to be told how to behave. We want to be shown how to behave.”
Skinner said by just proposing the ordinance, he believes it has already split a friendly and compassionate community.
“We’ve overcome significant obstacles to become the beautiful, bustling, friendly community we are, and that we’re known to be across the state and region Skinner said. “I’ve traveled to all 55 counties and county seats in West Virginia. I can tell you, we’re different, because we’re working together. Just the proposal of this ordinance has already parted the seas, and for that, I am truly saddened because it didn’t need to happen.”
Council member Reger said he went back and forth on the ordinance for a number of days before he came to the conclusion that he would vote against the ordinance. He said he knew the mayor would make the statement that gender identity and sexual orientation were on par with race and if that is a persons viewpoint than the ordinance should pass.
“However, this council does not have the right to impose that understanding of the apparent equality of human sexuality and race upon the vast majority of the members of the residents of this city,” Reger said.
Reger said he went across the city to speak with people and business owners about the ordinance.
“Nine out of 10 voices have said to me, this is not only unnecessary, it's divisive, and it's going to hurt us,” Reger said. “This council does not have the right to impose that perspective upon people with alternative viewpoints.”
Reger said he also took issue with the exemptions to the ordinance, which included churches, non-profit organizations, religious groups and organizations.
“We don't find any protection for individual Christians who may or may not agree with these understandings,” Reger said. “There are no protections for individual pastors who perform marriages and who may decide not to perform the public accommodation of marriage for a gay marriage of any kind.”
Reger said his final reason was he did not want to take away any rights from business owners.
“Business owners are employers they take risk, they struggle, they spend the night wondering how they're going to make payroll tomorrow, they drive to Michigan to pick up checks to make sure their employees are taken care of and that's with business owners often deal with,” Reger said. “To try and attempt to strip away the free moral agency and have a business owner to make his determinations or her determinations about what he or she thinks to be right or wrong is not only immoral, it's unsafe, and it's on American.”
Council member Rylands said he was in favor of the ordinance to show how Buckhannon is an inclusive community.
“If our intention is to be a safe, affordable, welcoming community, where a point is made to include everyone that wants to participate, then we have to behave in line with those intentions,” Rylands said.
He said in the last census Upshur County was 97.6 percent Caucasian and he thinks it’s important to show Buckhannon welcomes diversity.
“If you look around the country, and you find places that are following a path of ascension, there is a much greater element of diversity, “Rylands said. “I think it's important that people, of different persuasions and orientations feel that they're welcome in our community and I support this.”
Council member Cuppari said this was a hard decision for her but in the end, she believed voting no was what was best for the community.
“I just want to say that I have friends that belong to the LGBT community and I have relatives in that community also. I in no way shape or form against anybody,” Cuppari said.
She said she has been in business for years and she should have the right to not perform a service.
“I feel as a tax payers and as a business person I should have the right to not perform a service for a person because I have been through a lot of stuff with people who have come in and given me really big problems and I think I should have that right to say no or turn them away,” Cuppari said.
She said she also felt passing the ordinance would cause more problems in the community.
“I also believe this is going to open a can of worms if we pass this, we all have loved ones, there is probably no one who isn’t touched by this and it is a hard decision, but I will vote no against this because that’s what I feel and I feel it is best for the community,” Cuppari said.
Albaugh said it was not easy for her to come to her decision and that she wished the city council chambers were full for every meeting.
“It would be nice to have a big crowd two times a month but now we have this controversy here and I know it’s a personal issue for everyone like my vote is a personal issue to me,” Albaugh said. “I have to decide what I felt was right.”
She said she had to think of the city and what she believed was best for Buckhannon.
“I am a Christian, I do believe.” Albaugh said. “But I have to think what is best as a city council person, I am not a business person, I’m a worker, I’m a caregiver, I care give this city because I love it. I don’t care who you are or what you do, I’m not the person to judge anybody, none of you are. We are here to run a city the best way possible. To do that we have to be more open and caring, which we are, but more so.”
Thomas recounted two stories from his life when he interacted with members of the LGBT community.
“The worst fight I ever got into my life was when lived in a dormitory residence hall in college and somebody was getting beat up because he was gay,” Thomas said. “I had to kick the door down to help the person out.”
He said when he first ran for city council in 2004 he received comments about the people walking with him door to door.
“It was difficult for me to go door to door so I had some volunteers, that would take me around and I knocked on doors and some my friends are gay,” Thomas said. “I had a couple phone calls the after that and the person said, ‘you know, that person walking around has alternative lifestyle and is gay’ and I said, ‘Yes, I know that.’ He said, ‘Well, I'm not going to vote for you.’ I said, ‘Fine. I don't want your vote.’”
Council member Thomas said he voted against the ordinance because he does not believe there can be an ordinance to teach people to be open and accepting.
“I don't think you can put something on paper, saying that’s how you're going to be friendly and open, inclusive and so forth,” Thomas said. “You do it by your actions by what you do for the community. Racism and bigotry is not genetic, it's taught and I believe that firmly.”
Mayor McCauley closed out discussion between council members by saying he was 100 percent supportive of the proposed ordinance. He said West Virginia Wesleyan College has a great number of people in the LGBT community and pointed out that he took offense to some of Skinner’s comments.
“I take offense to your comments and suggestions that we have created this divisive thing,” McCauley said. “First off, it was not my initiative to create this. Members of our community, primarily people with alternative orientation reached out to the assistance of Fairness West Virginia to come here and Andrew Schneider has been here two or three times and addressed Council in the past two years and they asked for this matter be considered and has nothing to do with creating an unnecessary divisive effect.”
He also made reference to some of Cuppari’s comments.
“Well, Pam, I got news for you,” McCauley said. “If someone who was black came into your beauty parlor tomorrow and said, ‘I'd like a haircut’ and you happen to be a bigoted person who doesn't like black people, or Jewish people, or Islamic people, or people who are Italian or Polish or whatever it is, you better cut their hair because those folks have all of those protections to go against you.”
He said he ordinance was meant to extend the protections to people of other orientations so they can enjoy the same rights as people of color, ethnicity, age, handicap, and religion.