The first president to officially recognize June as a month to celebrate the LGBTQ community was President Bill Clinton, who declared June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month” in 1999 and 2000. Then, from 2009 to 2016, President Barack Obama declared June “LGBT Pride Month.”

This year, President Donald Trump became the first Republican president to acknowledge LGBT Pride Month, although he did so in a tweet rather than an official proclamation.

June was chosen for pride parades, historically, to commemorate the Stonewall riots in 1969, which are widely considered to be one of the sparks that ignited the modern day LGBTQ movement.

The community’s story, in many ways, is reflective of other minority communities in America, and even of original American colonists — it is a story of persecution, tireless activism and sought liberty.

Earlier this month, Fairmont was home to its second Pride Picnic, where it saw a much larger attendance than last year — going from around 30 attendees to upwards of 150.

We believe it’s important to reflect on our own values as a community. Do we subscribe to the idea that all people deserve respect? Dignity? That people should be treated fairly and equally? 

We’d certainly like to think so, and we’re proud to have a diverse and inclusive community.

But even as we celebrate the progress towards fair and equal treatment, we cannot forget those who would oppose these values and create unnecessary hardship from those who are different from them.

Just this year, we have seen and written about unacceptable behavior from positions of power through West Virginia.

In January, an assistant principal in Harrison County, Lee Livengood, was accused of bullying a student for being transgender — allegedly demanding the student “come out here and use the urinal” and saying “I’m not going to lie, you freak me out.” 

The following month, W.Va. House Delegate Eric Porterfield drew national attention to our state by comparing the LGBTQ community to the Ku Klux Klan and calling them a “terrorist group.” During a following interview, Porterfield doubled down on his comments, and seemed to imply that he would drown his children if they were gay with the comment “I’d want to make sure they could swim.”

Most recently, State Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood, penned an Op-ed column for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel titled “The shame of LGBTQ Pride,” in which he argues that the “LGBQT [sic] movement is not about happiness and tolerance, but about indoctrination and a forced acceptance of a perverted and non-biblical view of sexuality.”

Azinger follows his arguments with uncited statements he considers factual, and various quotes from the Bible, 16th-century theological professor Martin Luther, and author Nancy Pearcy.

The leader of West Virginia’s Republican Party, Chairwoman Melody Potter, endorsed Azinger's column publicly, saying the article was “right on.”

Despite the attempt to paint the LGBTQ community as an angry, violent group, the numbers speak for themselves — members of the community are much more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than one of the idealogues espousing these beliefs.

According to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department, of the 8,437 hate crimes reported by police in 2017, 1,434 of them were based on sexual orientation bias or gender identity bias. By contrast, only 182 were based on bias against Christians.

These numbers are problematic enough if we assume the LGBTQ population is equal in size to other groups, but when we consider that this community makes up around 12% of our population, the statistics become harrowing. Views like the ones expressed by Azinger, Potter, and Porterfield are not only regressive — they align directly with those that would harm or even kill another human being.

Their cries of intolerance and claim to victimhood are that of a schoolyard bully who has been told he’s no longer allowed to make fun of the downtroden.

We believe in equality, fair treatment, and safety for all. We believe West Virginians deserve leaders who represent all of their constituents, not just those who are philosophically aligned with them. And, most of all, we wish our LGBTQ friends and family a happy and safe Pride Month.