Happy Pride Month, everyone! So far, this year has been a bit harsh. And if you live in the United States, you may be adjusting to the daily social unrest. But the only real way to create change and gain equality is through conflict. This isn’t a speedy process, unfortunately, but the members of the LGBTQ community have been fighting and continue to fight for equality. And we have learned (sometimes the hard way) that the most effective way to end civil inequality is by electing politicians who care about people and progress, not people pleasing.
The year 1969 is notorious for many things in American history, including one of the most pivotal incidents in history for LGBTQ individuals. On June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York the social injustice between the police and LGBTQ boiled over when the NYPD raided one of the only safe places for them to gather, The Stonewall Inn. Regardless, the police came because they were simply there, and this turned into physical altercations that lasted several days. This incident led the liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ rights.
In this important election year, we must remember to elect representatives at every level who will not only protect but also be willing to push the fight for equality into the future. I spoke to West Virginia candidate for United States Senate and former state Senator Richard Ojeda II about the legislation he proposed to protect the LGBTQ community and how he would take that fight to a national level.
He introduced Senate Bill 138 which prohibits civil rights violations based on gender identity or sexual orientation. If made into law, it would be a hate crime to physically assault someone based on their sexual identification or orientation. Aggressive actions against these individuals would result in a felony and, upon conviction, “shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned in a state correctional facility not more than 10 years.”
- What prompted you to introduce SB138, which prohibits the violation of civil rights based on gender identity or sexual orientation?
“I heard about an attack in West Virginia where a college athlete jumped out of his vehicle and attacked a woman from the LGBTQ community. She sustained serious injuries and because West Virginia does not consider attacking someone over sexual preference a crime, I felt the need to push legislation to make it a hate crime. The thought of someone being beaten by another person until they suffer a life changing injury simply because they were not heterosexual really bothered me. The lack of public outcry sickened me, too. I was familiar with the antiquated notions of our leaders at the state level and knew this incident wouldn’t persuade them to do the right thing for our state. We cannot choose to ignore physical assaults on the LGBTQ community. At the end of the day, a person with a different sexual identity or orientation is no different than any other citizen in this state. They deserve the same protections that we give to anyone else and as a Senator, I wanted to make it a crime for anyone to attack them for the way they pray or choose to love.”
- Although there has been a lot of public outcry for equality in West Virginia, why do you think this bill did not make it out of judiciary?
“We have a significant number of legislators who are pure cowards. They worry that if they support a bill like that it will come back and hurt them politically. But to that I say the citizen has a voice. The people of West Virginia vote and they deserve the same protections everyone else receive. If our politicians are going to accept votes from LGBTQ individuals, then it’s their responsibility to put into place protections for them. If you do not think they deserve to be protected, then do not dare label yourself as a Christian or a decent human being who agrees in equality because you are neither.”
- Have you worked with supporters of the Fairness Act which advocates for a statewide law to prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of employment, housing, and public accommodations?
“The Fairness Act folks were always welcome in my office and knew I would always push legislation to help their cause. Yes, absolutely, as a matter of fact, during my second year in the legislature, I was invited to a gathering because I had always been willing to push legislation to help the Fairness Act in West Virginia”.
- How do you think legislature such as SB138 would help the supporters of the Fairness Act as well as LGBTQ individuals who live in our community?
“I think that it’s important to finally get to a point where everybody respects one another. Why do we see that happening in other places around the world, yet it’s repressed in the United States? I think we are all created equally and should be treated that way. We should respect the differences of others and learn from them. Our state should encourage people to learn how to treat one another with respect and dignity.”
“This bill was an attempt to prevent discrimination of civil rights because of being a member of the LGBTQ community. It’s a shame when you have people who are highly educated and financially stable yet are treated unfairly because of who they love. Through legislation, I tried to help West Virginia realize everyone should be treated with utmost respect and should not be targeted because of the color of their skin, how they pray, and who they choose to love.”
- What would motivate NOT allowing LGBTQ rights to be basic human rights? In your opinion, is there a financial or ideological incentive for the discrimination?
“A lack of education, I suppose, sadly. It’s unfortunate, but our social environment is one where people are only satisfied if they have someone else to pick on or blame so they will feel they are better than other groups of people. Whether it be a group of immigrants or someone due to their sexual preference. By acting this way, they are only showing their ignorance and that they are beneath those they scorn. They are cowards, politically, because they are afraid to piss off their supporters. But people can’t help how they are born. I don’t want to wait to stand up and speak for what is right, we have already remained silent for too long.”
If elected to represent West Virginia in the United States Senate, Richard Ojeda will give LGBTQ individuals in West Virginia a voice that speaks truth to power. The Mountain State must learn to be an ally to the LGBTQ community. We can do this by speaking up if we hear slurs or negativity and by listening to members of the community. This is how we can become more accepting communities, especially during such a polarized time in our society.
I sincerely wish everyone a festive and happy Pride Month. To me, Pride had always been a celebration of individuality and acceptance. I have been in countless Pride parades and they are filled with love and kindness. If you haven’t participated in one, I strongly encourage you to go. Show up and be there for your community and its future. Let your presence show everyone that you believe equal rights are human rights. Be a light to those who should never have to fear persecution or hatred.
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