By: Sierra Singleton
I’m sure we all know by now what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is. For the few that may not know, RFRA is a law that was recently signed into action that many have argued will legalize the refusal of service in businesses to people belonging to the LGBTQ community. RFRA has really turned the nation on its ear by pleasing some and disgusting others, creating conflict on our home front. Many states, cities, and local communities have shown their indifference with this law and Morgantown, WV is no exception.
It’s because of laws like RFRA that organizations like Spectrum exist. Katherine Geleta, President of WVU Spectrum says, “Spectrum is an organization that provides a safe space to WVU students. It is open to all students but the members are primarily on the LGBTQ spectrum or identify as allies” Spectrum, founded in the 1970s, has undergone many name changes since its creation but the goal and mission of the organization has remained the same. Geleta explains, “We have weekly meetings so each student knows they have a safe space to come to. Our previous meetings have focused around things like Day of Silence and Transgender Day of Remembrance. We also cosponsor events with the school’s LGBTQ Commission and Office of Multicultural programs”.
The impact that RFRA has on WV could be pretty severe and has become a concern for some. Marti Shamberger, the mayor of Morgantown, states for The Daily Athenaeum, “If people are coming here for any kind of relaxation or vacation and a business doesn’t want to serve them based on its religious beliefs, who would want to come back?” Some business are just not having it. Charleston has adopted a sticker reading “All Kinds Are Welcome Here”, created by Nicole Brown and designed by Jessica Kennedy, for businesses to display if they support the LGBTQ community and refuse to bend to RFRA.
So what does this mean for Morgantown, WVU, and WV when our motto is Montani Semper Liberi” (Mountaineers Always Free)? Daniel Brewster, a WVU faculty member, post on his blog, “These bills have historically been used to allow discrimination of LGBTQ people but extend to also affect individuals based on race, religion, color, etc.”. With Morgantown being the home of WVU, an institution that advertises and celebrates its diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of everyone wanting a college education, moving backwards just isn’t in the cards. Brewster states, “Thankfully I teach at a university that is ahead of the curve in West Virginia”.
Organizations like Spectrum show just how ahead of the curve WVU is and how important organizations like Spectrum are with Geleta stating, “I personally believe that Spectrum is important to the LGBTQ community in Morgantown because it gives students a place where they can feel safe and be themselves. There are not many LGBTQ programs in Morgantown, but Spectrum gives students a place where they can meet people who are just like them”.