CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been over 20 years since the first Employment & Housing Nondiscrimination Act (EHNDA), which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the West Virginia Human Rights Act, was first introduced in the Legislature. From then until now, LGBT West Virginians have been legally fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes for no reason other than who we are and whom we love. The law simply doesn't protect us.
House Bill 2856 would ensure that hardworking West Virginians will be judged only by the product of their work. This legislation is not controversial. A September 2013 poll concluded that roughly 7 in 10 West Virginians support protecting LGBT people from employment and housing discrimination. The bill has been endorsed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO, Generation West Virginia, and countless other organizations. For labor, business and our communities, it just makes sense.
EHNDA has passed the full Senate at least twice, yet it has moved nowhere in the House of Delegates. We have not seen a single House floor vote for two decades.
I was born and raised in this state, and I chose to return for medical school. In a few short years, I will be a doctor. And I will have a choice: Where will I practice? Where will I live? All around us, young West Virginians see our nation moving forward. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, marriage equality is a reality in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and soon enough in the Mountain State. But once our wedding announcement makes the paper, we could be fired and unemployed by the time we return from our honeymoon. Why would we as young West Virginians ever want to stay here if that is our reality?
House Speaker Tim Miley, Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin and lead sponsor Delegate Stephen Skinner have expressed various levels of support for this bill. Yet it hasn't moved. Delegate Skinner, our champion, has not mentioned House Bill 2856 in public even once this session: No Facebook posts, no tweets, no announcements. So the question becomes: Why is House leadership working against 68 percent of the constituency and 57,000 hardworking LGBT West Virginians? The math doesn't add up.
There must be one answer. House leadership is shielding itself from a bill that it says is still controversial. Even though EHNDA is part of the official platform, our civil rights simply aren't worth it for the party. We're told that because Republicans are close to House control, we must be patient while House Democrats ensure their victory and take no position, no action. But if even the Democrats in the House have brushed us under the rug for two decades on their own watch, then what's the difference to us? If they don't care about us, then why should we care about them?
Martin Luther King said, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
For the sake of fairness, dignity, and their own legacy, I urge House leaders to step forward and be our champion, or step aside. Run this bill.
Milam was the first executive director of Fairness WV and is a medical student at WVU.