Here’s Why 65 West Virginia Lawmakers Voted To Allow Uber To Discriminate Against LGBT People

CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Vogel

West Virginia is nearly ready to welcome Uber to the state. But if Uber drivers decide not to welcome LGBT riders, that’s their business — at least according to about two thirds of the state’s House of Delegates.

An amendment offered Friday to legislation allowing Uber to operate in the state would have prohibited the app’s drivers from refusing passengers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender presentation. But the measure failed, with 65 of the state’s 100 delegates voting against the protections.

Uber’s internal policies already prohibit drivers from bigoted decisionmaking on the road. The company maintains a two-way non-discrimination policy for both drivers and riders. The policy protects both orientation and gender identity, in addition to the demographic characteristics protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.

But while Uber is not going to sanction anti-LGBT prejudice, the state of West Virginia seems eager to do so. Yea votes outnumbered nays by more than two to one in Friday’s vote, with 8 delegates not voting at all. The state Senate can now take up the measure.

The lawmakers in opposition to the anti-discrimination amendment rallied around a delegate named Tom Fast (R), who gave a speech against the protections that was as impassioned in its tenor as it was old-timey in its substance.

Fast’s reason for opposing LGBT protections in the Uber bill? Legitimizing homosexuality would put West Virginia on a slippery slope toward helping pedophiles, he claims.

“History and reason illustrates the insanity of according special civil rights protection to a person’s sexual preference,” Fast said. “Once homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is elevated to a protected status, there is nothing to stop bigamy, pedophilia or any other sexual practice from receiving the same protection.”

To prove his point, Fast invoked a report from the Northern Colorado Gazette about an organization called B4U-ACT. In the passage Fast quoted Friday, the piece accuses the group of “using the same tactics used by gay rights activists… to seek similar status [for pedophiles], arguing that their desire for children is a sexual orientation no different from heterosexual or homosexual.”

The group’s goals vary depending on who you ask. Fast, along with many right-wing media outlets, would tell you B4U-ACT exists to make pedophilia more acceptable and even protected under civil rights law. According to the group itself, its purpose is to develop and promote more effective modes of therapeutic intervention with people who have pedophilic urges. It distinguishes between pedophilic feelings and pedophilic behavior, and argues that responding to transgressive desires with the same stigma, hostility, and punishment mentality that the law brings to bear on child rapists is ineffective at preventing such crimes.

It’s an easy set of ideas to vilify, but the actual argument is that this more humane approach helps to both prevent crimes among those who haven’t yet committed one and to deliver more effective modes of treatment and punishment for criminal pedophiles who will someday be released from prison. And the traditional, dehumanizing representation of pedophiles as evil monsters may actually make it harder for people to recognize red flags for child predation within their presumably-monster-free professional and social circles.

There is real conflict within professional psychology over the idea of a kinder, gentler response to people who are attracted to children. Plenty of experts still view pedophiles as untreatable, leading Johns Hopkins expert Fred Berlin to compare his and others’ efforts to update the psychology playbook here to the protracted battle to convince Americans that addicts need help rather than punishment.

But if you ask Fast, B4U-ACT is trying to make sure pedophiles are a protected class before the law with the same sorts of positive civil rights that have only recently been granted to the non-hetero community by federal actions — and which remain out of reach for most transpeople.

“I think this is an agenda to open up the state of West Virginia to a whole new sphere of protected status,” Fast said. “I believe that is a dangerous thing, to elevate as a protected status a characteristic that is a chosen characteristic. That would be harmful.”

That argument persuaded 64 of Fast’s colleagues to join him in saying West Virginians ought to remain free to discriminate against the entire queer community. Two of Fast’s fellow Republicans actually voted for the protections while another five of them abstained. Eight Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against the discrimination protections in the Uber bill.