BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield Ministerial Association and a former county delegate have taken a stand against some comments made by Del. Eric Porterfield (R-Mercer County) regarding the LGBTQ community.
Rev. Chad Slater with Christ Episcopal Church said in a statement from the association that its members “are grieved by the recent comments made by Delegate Eric Porterfield,” who “professes to be a man of faith.”
“As religious leaders we feel compelled to point out that many of Mr. Porterfield’s recent statements do not reflect the values or sentiments of the entire faith community; rather, he has spoken only for himself,” the statement said. “While we may not all agree on issues pertaining to our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or queer brothers and sisters we should all agree on the inherent worth of all human beings.
“Scripture is clear that all people are made in the image of God, a marvelous truth that places immense value and dignity on every single person. This certainly includes the LGBTQ community, and it includes Delegate Porterfield himself.”
The association said everyone should be reminded that “insinuations of violence are never appropriate and run contrary to this very notion of the dignity of all human beings. We appeal to the people of Mercer County, including our representatives, to place proper value on all people - value that is derived from God himself.”
Porterfield, 44, a freshman delegate who is blind and head of Blind Faith Ministries in Princeton, blasted the LGBTQ organizations in a House committee meeting last week and later in a news story, calling them “socialists,” “brutal monsters” and a “Ku Klux Klan in the modern era without the hoods.”
His statements were made in support of a proposed amendment that would basically disallow municipalities to give members of the LGBTQ community anti-discrimination protection.
Porterfield defended his description of LBGTQ, saying to him it’s about individual freedom and people in business should be allowed to serve, or not serve, who they choose, that a “lifestyle” should not be a protected class. The LGBTQ people are “bigots” who have a “socialist agenda,” he said, and want to impose their views on everyone.
He also received a threatening phone call Friday from a man who wanted to fight him as well as a text from a woman ridiculing his disability.
Porterfield said the threats prompted him to use the KKK comparison and the “brutal monsters” term.
But former Del. Marty Gearheart, a Republican who held Porterfield’s seat until this year, said such name-calling tactics have no place in the Legislature.
Not only has what he said been hurtful to many, he said, it has also placed Porterfield in a position that other legislators may not work with him.
“He has limited his ability to do his job,” Gearheart said. “His job is to propose and to move and to influence legislation. It takes a majority to accomplish that and I don’t believe he any longer possesses the ability to influence other members to vote with him.”
That hurts the county, he said. “Our voice here has been muted.”
“There is an approach, a decorum, that is used there,” he said of the Legislature. “I am not certain he (Porterfield) gets that. He may have a legitimate opposition to something, but by his hyperbole and name-calling he has lost any ability to make the point.”
Gearheart said Porterfield has hurt himself even more by not backing down on the comments.
“You have to be careful with personal, emotional issues,” he said.
Gearheart said voters in the 27th District will have to “make a statement whether this is the person who they want to represent them.” The next election is in 2020.
Gene Buckner, president of the Mercer County Commission, said, “I hate it’s all happening. Eric Porterfield is his own person and he makes his own decisions and it doesn’t mean we have to go along with what he has decided to do.”
Buckner said it’s a “shame things have gotten to this measure,” and if he were in a similar situation regarding an expression of his views, “I would hope I would use better verbiage.”
Fellow Commissioner Bill Archer said “it’s not appropriate language to use at all. I can understand what his concern is. I don’t think it’s how it’s been perceived so far.”
But, Archer said, “you can’t use that kind of terms and that kind of language to start a discourse with people” and he “can’t condone the use of vulgar terms to describe anybody.”
Commissioner Greg Puckett was one of the first government leaders to denounce Porterfield’s comments.
“Claiming that those from the LGBTQ community are to be called ‘brutal monsters’ and be compared to those that have murdered and burned them nailed to a cross because of the tone of their skin or religious beliefs is spewing hatred at its highest form,” he said earlier this week. “So, when our county image is challenged, ridiculed or threatened, I not only find it offensive to us as a whole, but to me personally,”
Democrats in the House continue to ask for Porterfield’s resignation, and want Republican leadership to do the same.
“GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter denounced Porterfield’s hateful and disturbing remarks, but we haven’t seen any action,” said West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore Wednesday. “As far as I know, Porterfield still has all of his committee assignments and his Republican colleagues in the House of Delegates seem to be okay with what’s going on.”
Biafore said non-discrimination legislation that offers protections for the LGBTQ community against discrimination in housing and employment is being held hostage while the Republican Majority refuses to put it on the agenda.
“This type of discrimination and hate should not be tolerated or pushed to the side,” she said. “Speaking up against hateful remarks is admirable, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s move West Virginia forward and do our part in ending discrimination and hate. And again, I will say that Delegate Porterfield should resign.”
Porterfield could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The ministerial association also offered unifying words for the community:
“During this difficult time for our entire community we ask that all faithful people stay in fervent prayer for our state and nation. We would also ask that, regardless of the positions you may hold on LGBTQ issues, all people of faith consider carefully their words and actions so that they may be based in love and service and never in hate or fear.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org