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Huntington expands its ‘Open to All’ campaign

January 9, 2018 GMT

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington relaunched its “Open to All” anti-discrimination campaign Monday with an expanded range and promises of pledges coming later this week from two of the area’s largest employers.

The goal of the anti-discrimination campaign is to promote diversity and inclusion by broadening views beyond race, gender and sexual orientation. It encourages maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, customers, visitors and vendors, regardless of race, religion, ancestry, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or income status.

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Monday’s event served as a relaunch of the program, which was initially started in March 2016 by the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Committee as a way to promote an inclusive environment for the people of Huntington.

Carmen “Mitzi” Sinnott, a member of the Mayor’s Diversity Advisory Committee, said the relaunch comes after the Diversity Advisory Committee joined with the LGBTQ Advisory committee.

“We really collectively decided we wanted to expand the campaign to all communities that have been formerly marginalized and historically oppressed,” she said. “It really just made sense for Huntington to live up to its full potential. We want to be a city where everyone can thrive and everyone is welcome.”

Organizations who take the pledge and publicly display the Open to All decal become members of the “One Hundred Club,” which includes free educational workshops, publicity and inclusion on special events, like “cash mobs.”

The first mob is set for Thursday at the River & Rail Bakery, which was one of the first Huntington businesses to join the original campaign two years ago.

On Monday, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said events have been scheduled later this week for Marshall University and Cabell Huntington Hospital to take non-discrimination pledges.

Marshall University President Jerome A. Gilbert attended Monday’s event, and on Tuesday, Jan. 9, he will host an event at the president’s house, where the university will take the pledge to be “open to all.”

“The City of Huntington’s Open to All campaign allows Marshall University to pledge its commitment to the university family,” he said. “To let them know we are a community that embraces all diversity and the expansion of knowledge, the defense of individual rights and the promotion of civic responsibility.”

The university recently announced the formation of the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, which will help foster an environment for all people and opinions to be respected, according to the university.

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Last year Huntington received a score of 95 on a 100-point scale and was also one of 41 cities to earn an “All Star” designation for advancing LGBTQ equality without relying on state law as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 Municipal Equality Index.

The index ranks 506 U.S. cities of varying sizes on a number of factors, including nondiscrimination laws, municipal employment policies, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement with regard to LGBTQ people and municipal leadership on matters of equality.

Currently, West Virginia’s human rights act and hate crime laws do not include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 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.

At Monday’s re-launch, Michael Thomas, owner of the 20th Street Tudor’s Biscuit World and other local businesses, took the pledge, agreeing to uphold the values.

Being inclusive is morally right Being inclusive is morally right and economically right as a business owner, Bill Bissett, president of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said.

Kim Baker, owner of River & Rail Bakery, said the campaign was an important part of bringing the city together.

“To build a strong community we must recognize all its aspects and respect the individual differences” she said. “Hate weakens our society and it degrades joy and prosperity. The richest lives are those full of compassion, cooperation, tolerance and gratitude.”

It’s not just businesses that are encouraged to join, however.

The Rev. Jacque Parlato, of Central Christian Church in Huntington, spoke about the importance of religious organizations joining the campaign, like her congregation did years ago. The campaign hopes to branch its cash mob promoting into a worship mob event on Sundays where crowds will join in on worship services to show appreciation.

Williams said as part of the campaign, he has been working to include diversity in higher ranking positions. Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader, the first female fire chief in West Virginia, also said it is important for government entities to take the pledge. Both the city’s IT director and municipal judge are minorities, she said.

Reporter Josephine Mendez contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.