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Coming to terms with the evolution of gender

Last Thursday was Fairness Day at the State Capitol. It was a chance for West Virginia to say that “All Kinds are Welcome Here,” and the LGBTQ community was out in force.

I met a woman who I quickly learned was transsexual, a person who identifies as a gender or sex other than the one which they were assigned at birth.

I don’t think I’m transphobic. To my knowledge I don’t know any transsexuals—I doubt many West Virginians of my generation do—so this was a new experience. I asked if she could answer some very specific questions I had and she willingly agreed.

She was delightful and we had a pleasant—and frank—chat. She told me she had known since she was a child that something was different, and it took a long time to work up the courage to become her true self.

Something clicked with me during our conversation.  Instead of seeing a man dressed as a woman, I started to see the real person, someone I enjoyed talking with and thought I might even be friends with.

I grew up in a gender-specific time, gender binary as it’s called now. There were boys and girls we suspected were homosexual.  They didn’t come out—nobody did back then—but that didn’t necessarily insulate them from painful ridicule.

It wasn’t until after college that I found out that one of my best friends was gay, and that was an epiphany on the issue of equality. How could I deny this good man, one of the smartest and most decent people I had ever met, the same enjoyment and benefits of life that I, a heterosexual male, had?

So, I came to terms with gay marriage and have supported it wholeheartedly for many years now.

Then life became more complicated. After gay or straight, there came bigender, transgender, gender fluid, gender non-conformist, pansexual, skoliosexual, on and on. And I got confused.

Not sexually confused—my gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth have always aligned—but rather confused about what it all meant and whether some of these new identities were just politically correct identifications for people who wanted to have it both ways.

And confused about how I was supposed to think and feel about the rapidly changing landscape of gender identity and sexual orientation.

My process for sorting through confusion is initially academic; I do research to try to learn new information. But at some point you have to meet people in these new categories, talk to them and hear their stories.

I don’t want to be a “woke” cliché. Patronizing is almost as bad as outright discrimination. So, I’m listening and trying to learn, and from that learning I hope will develop more informed views about sexual and gender identity.

This commentary is not intended to try to change anyone’s mind about this sensitive and controversial issue. It’s my acknowledgment that life is not static. The changes come at us in spurts and waves.

My initial inclination is to batten down the hatches for protection, even self-preservation. I’ve done that a lot. Change does not come easy for me.

But it is far more liberating to try to meet these changes with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart.

I’m looking forward to more conversations like the one I had last week.

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Classes begin in March for next NewForce software training class at Mountwest

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Applications are due Friday for the next NewForce training class, the six-month, tuition-free software development training program that’s a partnership between Generation West Virginia, Mountwest Community and Technical College and employers.

“We’ve found that the people who love solving problems and love learning new things are those who would really make great software developers,” said Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia.

NewForce launched in Cabell County just more than a year ago to prepare West Virginians for technology jobs available in the Mountain State.

No prior technology experience in coding or math is required to apply.

Natalie Roper

Of the students, “Some have graduated from college and are using this program to sort of shift careers, some are using this as sort of an alternate education pathway to access the technology field,” Roper said.

“Right now, we have students and graduates who were teachers, worked in fast food, were painting houses.”

Feb. 11 is Demo Day for the 15 students who make up the second NewForce cohort.

That is when they will be demonstrating the two capstone web applications they’ve built during their time in the program which is structured like a software development workplace.

The NewForce curriculum was developed at Nashville Software School.

Students work in teams to build software applications to address real-world business problems.

“That’s what software development is like both in this classroom and on the job,” Roper said.

“You’re constantly solving complex problems, hitting up against challenges that you can solve through technology and we’re looking for people who find that fun.”

Students in the first NewForce cohort graduated last July.

Currently, Roper said 12 of those 14 graduates are employed in software development with companies based in West Virginia like Core10, IBM, Mountain Leverage and the Green Bank Observatory.

Jan. 31 is the last day to apply for the third NewForce cohort ahead of the start of classes in March.

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Photo gallery: Martinsburg defeats Hedgesville, 71-61

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Martinsburg’s 71-61 win over sectional rival Hedgesville.

(Photos courtesy of Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)


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Monongalia commissioners provide update on Longview PILOT

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County commissioners are talking about how negotiations for the new payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Longview Power have progressed.

Groups like the Sierra Club and the Monongalia County Coalition for Clean Air have opposed the Longview Power expansion, accusing the commission of holding private negotiations. The opposing organizations also claim the commission is giving tax breaks, and the agreement is not in the best interests of taxpayers.

Commissioners Ed Hawkins, Tom Bloom and Sean Sikora appeared on WAJR-AM’s “Talk of the Town” last week to explain their side of the negotiations.

“We started last spring We had a lot of discussions, we had a lot of back and forth to get the point that we could approve a term sheet in September,” Sikora said. “That’s where we’ve been. The term sheet that defines everything we still have to work out. We haven’t as a group met with Longview since September.”

Sikora said much work has been dedicated to developing an escrow agreement, the PILOT agreement, the lease and the facilities development agreement that will govern the relationship between the county Longview Power.

“There’s the process going on with us negotiating the actual PILOT agreement and the PSC process that is currently going on and is completely transparent,” Sikora said. “We’ve even offered our commission chamber for a public meeting.”

Sikora noted most of the negotiations involving hundreds of pages of terms of conditions have been conducted by lawyers representing each entity. The latest draft is in the hands of a Longview Power attorney for review and comment.

Sikora added the draft agreement would provide the county with more money compared to if there was no development and only property taxes were collected.

“The three properties that Longview owns and will build on, bring in about $3,800 a year in taxes,” Sikora said. “The payment in lieu of taxes agreement when the facility is built will be $58 million over 30 years.”

The state Public Service Commission’s work regarding the project continues.

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WVU legend Jerry West on Kobe Bryant’s death: ‘I felt like I lost a son’

Kobe Bryant built himself into a global icon over the course of his 20-year NBA career, so it is little surprise that tributes poured in from all corners of the United States and beyond when the 41-year-old basketball legend died in a helicopter crash in California Sunday morning.

West Virginia is no exception, with several current and former WVU athletes paying tribute to Bryant on social media.

None were more affected than Mountaineers legend Jerry West.

“To wake up to this news, this has been one of the most horrible days of my life,” West said in an interview with CBS Los Angeles, his voice breaking. “I felt like I’ve lost a son. I’m frankly not doing very well.”

As Los Angeles Lakers general manager, it was West who orchestrated the deal that sent center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Bryant, who was taken with the 13th overall pick out of Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School in 1996.

West released an official statement addressing the crash, which also killed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on board.

“I am so saddened for Kobe’s parents, Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, Kobe’s sisters and all of the NBA fans that hold Kobe in their hearts,” West wrote. “This loss of Kobe, Gianna and everyone on board is beyond tragic and incomprehensible.

“I will love Kobe forever and always cherish the time that I spent with him. I watched him grow from an energetic kid into the man he became, making a difference in so many people’s life. He has left the world a better place, Kobe’s legacy will life forever.”

West was there for each step of the peaks and valleys of Bryant’s maturation, rise to stardom, fall from grace and then his elevation to legendary status.

“To see the transformation of him from a 17-year-old kid who used to spend time at my house with my son Ryan driving him because he couldn’t drive — he couldn’t even sign a contract because he was too young,” West told CBS. “To wanting me to go to a gym with him to watch him work out and maybe make suggestions to him. I felt like a surrogate father to him.”

Bryant’s final act as retired family man brought the most joy to West.

“The thing that brought me great joy was to watch him with his wife and kids,” West said. “It was truly inspiring to see this. He lived in a world of testosterone, as all athletes do. For him to be able to separate the athletic accomplishments with his personal accomplishments, this was a brilliant kid…

“It’s going to take me a long time to get over this one.”

Lakers legend Jerry West on Kobe Bryant: "This was a man for all seasons. He was more than an iconic basketball player."

— ABC News (@ABC) January 27, 2020

Other Mountaineers react to Kobe Bryant’s death

When reports of Bryant’s death began to trickle out before being confirmed by media organizations, Monutaineers forward Emmitt Matthews reacted the same way as so many others — with total disbelief and a simple, heartbreaking message.


— emmitt “doo” matthews jr. (@pbgdoo1) January 26, 2020

Though he plays football, WVU wide receiver TJ Simmons shared the sentiments of many athletes.

The whole world gone feel this one! R.I.P Kobe 😔😇

— Tj Simmons (@a_scouts_dream) January 26, 2020

Former Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, currently with the Seattle Seahawks, called for Bryant’s No. 24 to be retired across the NBA.

Prayers up for the Bryant family.. you will he missed @kobebryant .. you were the model of competitive consistency.. on and off the court led the way! @NBA retire #24

— Geno (@GenoSmith3) January 26, 2020

Unlike many players his age, Bryant wasn’t the favorite player of West Virginia guard Miles McBride growing up. But McBride clearly felt the loss of an athlete that influenced younger generations with his maniacal work ethic.

He wasn’t my favorite player but he inspired me and so many others to be great and nothing less. The competitiveness and work ethic is something that will never be matched. Prayers up to his family and everyone affected. #thankyoukobe #LongliveMamba

— M11es McBride (@deucemcb11) January 26, 2020

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Huntington to serve as training site for Quick Response Teams in other parts of U.S.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Huntington is now a mentor site for law enforcement officers and first responders from across the United States who are looking to launch or expand drug diversion programs like those already in place in Cabell County, including the Quick Response Team.

“There will be people coming from all across the country, actually coming here to go out with the team and see what we’re doing firsthand,” said Connie Priddy, program coordinator for the Huntington QRT.

Those with the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance recently selected the eight locations for the Law Enforcement and First Responder Diversion and Referral Program Mentoring Initiative out of a competitive process.

Along with Huntington, the other mentor sites are in Philadelphia, Pa., Colerain Township, Oh., Plymouth County, Mass., Lucas County, Oh., Seattle, Wash., Lake County, Ill. and Pima County, Az.

The goal is to put lessons learned in Huntington and in the other participating cities and communities to use elsewhere.

Taking some inspiration from Colerain Township, Oh., Huntington started its Quick Response Team in 2017.

Since then, the QRT has operated as a partnership between emergency medical services, law enforcement, behavioral health professionals and faith leaders to respond to a growing number of drug overdoses in the Cabell County city.

Within 48 hours of an overdose event involving EMS, QRT members follow up with various forms of assistance, including treatment options.

Additionally, the effort has expanded to include referrals.

Marshall University has partnered with Huntington to collect data on the QRTs and provide analysis on the work.

“We all know the healthcare system’s really difficult to navigate and so, if you add substance use disorder to that mix, it’s really hard to know where to call or how to get help and we actually go out and knock on doors and offer that help,” Priddy said.

Since 2017, Huntington’s QRT has come into contact with 720 people. Of them, 216 — or about 30 percent – have sought treatment, according to information from Huntington officials.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control showed the fatal overdose rate in Cabell County fell by 24 percent from 2017 to 2018 while nonfatal overdose cases declined by 52 percent between 2017 and 2019.

The work in Huntington, which is now being opened up to others nationwide, has already spread to parts of West Virginia.

“All through West Virginia, there’s multiple (QRT) sites now and they’ve all used Huntington as their model,” Priddy said.

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American Lung Association “concerned” for West Virginia youth after latest vaping report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The American Lung Association is “concerned” about the next generation of West Virginia following a report released last week by the state Department of Health and Human Resources on e-cigarette use among youth.

The report showed the state’s youth use of e-cigs has jumped in the past two years to a 35.7 percent usage rate, more than one-in-three.

“The American Lung Association is very concerned that we are at risk of losing another generation to tobacco-caused diseases as the result of e-cigarettes,” Sarah Lawver, American Lung Association (ALA) advocacy director told MetroNews.

According to the ALA, West Virginia leads the nation in adult smoking rates at 25.2 percent and high school smoking rates at 10.3 percent. State Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp told MetroNews previously that the new youth numbers release rose 150 percent in the past two years.

Lawver said the ALA believes there are several proven policies to decrease tobacco use that the legislature and state officials should act on.


Sarah Lawver

One is the increase in tobacco and prevention control funding. According to Lawver, West Virginia allocated $500,000 toward such programs last year, but the Center for Disease Control says best practices for the state would be to spend $24.4 million.

Lawver said for every dollar spent on prevention in a state, the state is saving $55.

“By investing in these programs, they’ll be able to gain some of that loss both in the 4,200 West Virginians who lose their lives every year due to smoking-related death and due to the healthcare costs that are associated with smoking,” she said.

Lawver said a second policy would be to change the tobacco taxes. She said e-cigs are not taxed in a model way

She is hoping that more can be done on a state level in this legislative session.

“This e-cigarette epidemic has provided the momentum and the need to finally implement strong policies,” Lawver said. “We are looking forward to working with our partners at the state level and our partners at the legislature.”

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Western Kentucky tops Marshall for second time this week

— By David Walsh

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — More points in the rematch, but the same outcome.

Western Kentucky used a late first-half surge to open up a 13-point lead, then held off numerous Marshall charges in the second half to defeat the Thundering Herd, 91-84, on Saturday. The contest was held in front of a 6,270 fans inside E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Hilltoppers rallied from a 19-point first-half deficit to knock off Marshall, 64-60, Wednesday at Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

Western Kentucky, now 14-6 and 7-1 in Conference USA, extended its winning streak to five in a row. 

Marshall (9-12, 3-5) has dropped four of its last five games.

Taevion Kinsey scored on a layup with 4:15 left to cut the deficit to 81-77. WKU responded as Taveion Hollingsworth hit a pair of free throws and Jared Savage scored on a folo to push the lead to 85-77. The Hilltoppers held the Herd off from there.

“It’s been the story of our season,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “We’re right there. I know what it is, I get tired of saying it. We’ve got to learn how to win. I look out on the floor again and see two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.”

Western Kentucky led 50-40 at halftime, the second-most points scored in the first half this season. The Hilltoppers had 54 on Nov. 18 against Campbellsville. 

“Our guys had those moments, they don’t play as well, but we’re finding ways with different people,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Different guys making plays at the right time. It’s kind of who were are. Play together and make adjustments.”

Hollingsworth had 18 points to lead six players in double figures. Savage finished with 16, Jordan Rawls 15, Josh Anderson and Carson Williams with 14 each and Camron Justice 11.

Kinsey netted 16 points to pace Marshall. Jarrod West had 15 and 11 assists for a double-double, Marko Sarenac netted a career-best 15 along with Andy Taylor’s 15. Iran Bennett, the Herd’s 6-foot-9 big man, had just two points and he battled foul trouble each half.

“The killed us on the fast break,” D’Antoni said of WKU’s first-half run. “We have to talk and get back. We didn’t communicate. Marko’s starting to play. He’ll be a factor before it’s all over.

“Growing up is a problem. Freshmen you see one game and do not see them the next. We’ve got to even out our production. We’ll gain maturity as we go through the season.”

Marshall has two games this week in Florida. The Herd visits Florida International on Thursday at 7 p.m. The trip ends Saturday at Florida Atlantic. Tip is 3 p.m.

WKU is now 18-12 all-time vs. the Herd and Stansbury is 5-4 against Marshall. 

This was the first time Western Kentucky played a league opponent in consecutive games in the regular season since doing so with Middle Tennessee in 190-71.

The Herd is now 0-9 when trailing at intermission.

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I-79 north reopened near Weston after road damage

WESTON, W.Va. — Officials with the state Division of Highways have reopened Interstate 79 northbound at Weston Sunday morning.

The interstate was shutdown on Saturday morning “due to significant damage to the interstate” and remained closed for hours.

The DOH announcement on shutting it down was:

“Both lanes of I-79 North in this area are expected to remain closed for several hours today as crews work around the clock to make repairs.”

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Old hangars being torn down at Morgantown airport

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The director at the Morgantown Municipal Airport said a Pennsylvania-based contractor is paying the facility to tear down an old T-hangar.

Airport Director Jon Vrabel said contractors like Safeco Environmental of Dilliner, Pa. are interested in the steel that’s part of the hangars.

“The buildings are all steel and the steel is very high quality due to the age,” Vrabel said. “When you look at reusing that steel, it has a value. So, we’re actually being paid to take the buildings down because of the value of the steel.”

The airport will receive $500, according to Vrabel.

T-hangar structures were part of the original airport configuration.

“The old T-hangars are about 80 years-old. they’re no longer being used,” Vrabel said. “A couple years ago we built a new T-hangar facility on the property, on the east side of the property, opposite of the terminal building.”

He said it would cost too much to remodel them.

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