Two bills, SB 486 and HB 2856 , have been recently introduced in the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates that will add sexual orientation to the categories currently afforded protection under the West Virginia Human Rights Act and West Virginia Fair Housing Act. Currently, the acts prohibit discrimination in employment and places of public accommodation, and housing based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness, or disability. "Sexual orientation" is defined in the language of the bills as "heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity expression, whether actual or perceived." Both bills also exempt from application corporations or educational institutions exempt from religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, except in the operation of a program funded by the state.
A previous version of this bill has passed twice in the state Senate, but has never passed in the House. However, commentators believe that at this time there is enough support in the House for the measure to pass. West Virginia Senate President Jeffrey Kessler (D-Marshall) sponsored SB 486, and West Virginia Delegate Stephen Skinner (D-Jefferson) sponsored HB 2856. Delegate Skinner has been quoted as saying, "Folks are timid sometimes, in the rest of West Virginia, there's a lack of willingness to realize we've come a long way in the last 30 years, even in the last five years."
Currently, almost half the states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both private and public workplaces. These states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Other states, including Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, and Montana prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in public employment. The City of Charleston Human Rights Commission already recognizes sexual orientation as a classification afforded protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Charleston, W. Va., Ordinance § 62-2 (2007). HB 2856 is currently being reviewed in the House Energy, Industry & Labor/Economic Development & Small Business Committee and will be sent next to the House judiciary committee.