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Coy A. Flowers, M.D.: It's time for West Virginia to do the right thing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Imagine this employee evaluation:

Amazing Productivity -- Check

Always Courteous -- Check

Team Player -- Check

Exceeds Expectations -- Check

Happens to be Gay -- Fired!

This is not fair. This is not acceptable. And it's no way to treat any worker. However, it is perfectly legal in West Virginia to fire someone solely because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT).

This means these honest, hard-working West Virginians can be fired from their jobs regardless of job performance or ability. It means they can be fired even if they show up on time every day and give their all. It means they can be fired regardless of their work ethic or dedication to their employer. It means they can be fired just for being who they are.

This kind of discrimination happens in West Virginia everyday. Recently, Sam Hall, a coal miner in Kanawha County, faced anti-gay insults and threats on his life while on the job; and Jessica Hudson, a highly qualified non-profit administrator, was fired because of false fear and discrimination against lesbians. Sam and Jessica and the rest of the 40,000 LGBT West Virginian workers, want to be judged by their ability and job performance, not by who they love.

As West Virginians, we take pride in our strong work ethic. We know that a good job is more than a paycheck. Growing up in West Virginia, I was raised take great pride in my work and know the value of a job. It means I can support my family and give back to my community. As a business owner who employs over 60 workers, I cannot conceive of hiring or firing any employee based on a characteristic that has absolutely nothing to do with job performance. Denying someone the opportunity to work simply because of whom they love, goes against everything that our state and nation stand for.

CEOs of companies much larger than mine feel the same way. Currently, 96 percent of all Fortune 500 companies as well as 21 of West Virginia's top 25 employers have already enacted protections for their LGBT workers. All of West Virginia's 10 largest employers, including West Virginia United Health System, Charleston Area Medical Center, Kroger and Consol Energy, have pledged not to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

And, guess what? The citizens of this state agree. According to a 2010 poll, 61 percent of West Virginians believe that LGBT workers should not be discriminated against in employment and housing.

Despite the fact that many businesses understand the value of LGBT employees, the hard reality is that everyday some of our neighbors, family members and friends are discriminated against simply because of whom they love.

Without state legislation, honest West Virginians who want nothing more than to work for a living, pay taxes and support economic growth in this state, will continue to live under the threat of discrimination at work and the fear of losing their livelihoods.

This discrimination has gone on for too long and frankly, it hurts our reputation as a state and negatively impacts our ability to create a vibrant workforce. It's time for West Virginia to stand up for the 40,000 LGBT Mountaineers who choose to live and work here. This year, the Legislature must pass a commonsense update to the existing Human Rights Act, which already includes race, creed, disability, and sex. This update would ensure that all West Virginians are treated fairly by the laws of this state, including LGBT West Virginians.

The facts are clear: the people and businesses of West Virginia stand for fairness in the workplace and believe that the right thing to do is to amend the Human Rights Act by passing the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act (EHNDA).

I urge everyone across our state to join a strong and growing coalition of West Virginia's citizens and businesses to ensure that EHNDA is passed this year. Visit www.fairnesswv.org to make your voice heard to end LGBT workplace discrimination.

Flowers is president of the Fairness WV Board of Directors.


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