While America’s major metropolitan cities often take center stage in national issues, the country’s smaller cities and towns have a culture, vibrancy and uniqueness all their own. This month, we’re highlighting small cities looking to the future as part of Small Cities Month 2018.
Throughout June, cities around the country have hosted marches, ceremonies and celebrations in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) and to remember the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.
People from all over the world travel to cities like New York, San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis to take part in their Pride celebrations. And in communities large and small, businesses, shops and restaurants hang the bright colors of the rainbow flag.
But what happens when June is over? For one small city in West Virginia, celebrating inclusion is a year-round commitment.
In January 2018, the National League of Cities awarded Huntington, West Virginia, with first place in the Under 50,000 in Population category of the City Cultural Diversity Awards for their Open to All campaign.
Originally established in March 2016, Open to All calls on Huntington’s local institutions to reaffirm their commitment to inclusion. By asking local businesses and organizations to pledge to maintain a welcoming and safe environment for all visitors, customers, employees, vendors and clients, regardless of race, religion, ancestry, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. After taking the pledge, they are asked to display the Open to All decal in their shop or business windows.
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The Huntington Mayor’s Diversity and LGBT Advisory Committee hoped the campaign would promote a welcoming environment for the residents of Huntington and those who visited.
“Our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens have every right to expect that they can sip from the fountain of community participation,” Mayor Stephen Williams said at the time. “We will be able to transform our future by assuring every person in our city has a seat at the table and a voice to be heard.”
Cathy Burns, former president and CEO of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce and current Huntington City Manager added, “The Chamber supports businesses taking full advantage of the many opportunities a diverse workforce offers. We understand diversity is a key element of job creation in West Virginia.”
As of November 2017, there were 11 cities and towns, including Huntington, in West Virginia that had added LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances to their city statutes, according to the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.
In 2018, Huntington relaunched the campaign, expanding on the range of pledges, and securing commitments from two of the areas largest employers: Marshall University and Cabell Huntington Hospital.
Each year, the National League of Cities honors cities across the country with the City Cultural Diversity Awards. Designed to promote and reward inclusive policies in the nation’s cities, towns and villages, the awards program recognizes communities that have developed innovative ways of supporting diversity.
Interested in LGBTQ issues? NLC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Local Officials constituency group meets annually at NLC’s City Summit and Congressional City Conference. Plus, it’s free to join for NLC members! Learn more today.
About the author: Meri St. Jean is a communications specialist at the National League of Cities.