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Gallup Poll helps Fairness WV fight for job, housing equality

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All good lobbyists know that putting a face on an issue is the way to drive it home.

For Fairness West Virginia, a new Gallup poll helped them put 57,517 faces on the LGBT – or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population within the state.

FairnessWV is pushing especially hard this year for job and housing non-discrimination legislation, armed with the support of Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, along with several other lawmakers and organizations such as the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

A measure is expected to be introduced in the Legislature within the week.

Fairness WV has nine staff members and four lobbyists. Its president, Dr. Coy Flowers of Lewisburg, said the LGBT population in West Virginia is the state's second-largest minority group, behind the African American population, which is made up of about 64,000 people.

Flowers, who was named one of The State Journal's Generation Next: 40 Under 40 last year, said being armed with population numbers helps provide a scientific guide to everything from health services to advocating for civil rights.

Flowers said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called for the U.S. Census Bureau to include certain questions that would allow for a better estimation of the LGBT population. Flowers said while those numbers helped to determine the number of same-sex couples, their income and how many children they were raising, it still didn't give a good number of a total population within a state or region.

The Gallup poll joined with the Williams Institute at UCLA for the first 50-state poll. The results were percentages of adults who identify as LGBT ranges from 1.7 percent of the population in North Dakota to 5.1 percent in Hawaii and 10 percent in the District of Columbia. The nationwide average was 3.5 percent. West Virginia ranked at 3.1 percent of the population from 1,410 interviews conducted for the poll. Looking at the Mountain State's neighbors, Ohio had 3.6 percent of its population identify as LGBT, Pennsylvania had 2.7 percent of its population, Maryland had 3.3 percent, Virginia had 2.9 percent and Kentucky had 3.9 percent of its population that identified as LGBT.

The surveys were conducted from June through December 2012. The poll is the largest single study of the distribution of the LGBT population within the U.S., according to Gallup.

"Clearly from this data, the LGBT population is a significant group in the state and not only lawmakers, but also individuals who also provide services to different groups in our state need to pay attention to the LGBT population," Flowers said. "Our agenda for the LGBT population is the same as everyone else in West Virginia. It's jobs."

Flowers said the LGBT community is no different than anyone else who chooses to return or to remain in West Virginia because they bleed blue and gold.

"I went away to residency in Washington, D.C., spent 12 years in the military, and I made the choice because I love the state to come back, to make my home here, to work here and love here," he said. "That's all we want: a fair, just chance at finding and keeping a job."

Flowers said the employment and housing non-discrimination act that Fairness WV is advocating is "simply a common sense update to our state's laws to allow LGBT individuals the same opportunity to keep a job like everybody else."

And so far, the support for the measure that is still being drafted has come from near and far.

"We're very enthused about the support for this movement on both sides of the aisle," Flowers said. "Both fair-minded Republicans and fair-minded Democrats seem to be coming together, along with a huge coalition with individuals, corporations and advocacy groups from labor unions to business groups to civil rights organizations."