Wheeling has long been known as “The Friendly City,” but we – the Friendlier City Project – are a small group that has made it our mission to make Wheeling even friendlier. 

The Friendlier City Project is a small group of LGBTQIA+ citizens and allies who want to ensure that Wheeling’s queer community has a space to connect, share resources, and advocate for issues that impact their lives. 

In early 2021 Wheeling City Councilwoman and lead organizer, Rosemary Ketchum, organized our first group meeting for what would become the Friendlier City Project. Information about this meeting was spread through word of mouth, and the result was a handful of people who resolved to take on tangible projects that would make a difference for LGBTQIA+ people throughout Wheeling. 

“Having lived in Wheeling for over a decade, I found a serious gap in resources offered to LGBTQIA+ people in the city,” said Ketchum. “While we are an incredibly thoughtful and supportive community, prior to The Friendlier City Project, no organization existed focused solely on supporting LGBTQIA+ issues in Wheeling. Last year, I decided to convene a group of thoughtful partners to consider the creation of something new, and the project was born…fostering a partnership that focused on the goals of developing Wheeling into a city where the LGBTQIA+ community can thrive.” 

Since the first initial meeting, The Friendlier City Project has grown and coordinated with multiple organizations across Wheeling, from small local businesses to city government. While contemplating how to get more local businesses to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community, the concept of sticker campaign quickly came to fruition.

Mikaya Green, a Friendly City Project organizer, explained “I know I’ve walked into a business and wondered, ‘if the owners knew my sexuality…would I be welcome there?’ So I thought a great way for businesses to show that they are affirming and inclusive would be to place a sticker on their business window. We came up with a rainbow design of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. Now when LGBTQIA+ people see that design before walking into a business they know they are truly welcome and respected there. Something as simple as that can make a world of difference.”

  • Orrick was one of the first local companies who had their sticker on display.

“Part of our mission at Wheeling Heritage is to engage the citizens of Wheeling in our projects and programs to the benefit of all,” explains Scott Schenerlein, Executive Director for Wheeling Heritage. “We are proud to partner with the Friendlier City Project to ensure that everyone who comes through our doors knows that they are welcomed and valued.”

If you’d like to display one of these stickers on your business’s window, you can send an email to us at thefriendliercityproject@gmail.com.

Partnering for Pride in Wheeling

Another way that the Friendlier City Project has worked with local businesses is by partnering with them for special events. Most recently we partnered with Orrick, Herrington and  Sutcliffe law firm for their annual Pride in Wheeling Day. Through this partnership, we were able to help the law firm paint a mural on the walking trail at Heritage Port in honor of pride month and the LGBTQIA+ community in Wheeling. 

“I jumped at the chance to be involved in The Friendlier City Project because I’ve been an LGBTQ+ ally since the late 1970s,” explained Ellen McCroskey, The Friendlier City Project member and Orrick employee. “I have dearly-loved friends and family who are part of this community and I will always support them in any way I can. I believe that the Bible teaches us to love one another and I will do whatever I can to foster love in this community – we need all the love we can get today! 

  • Several volunteers lent a hand in painting a butterfly mural near the Heritage Port Janie S. Altmeyer Playground.

McCroskey continued, “I am also part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team at Orrick, where I’ve worked for 11 years. I know that to bring business to Wheeling, we must demonstrate that we are progressive, forward-thinking, and always on the right side of history. I believe that the FCP is a group that will show that there are people in our city who are willing to walk the walk.”

City of Wheeling Supporting Equality

Having LGBTQIA+ voices heard at Wheeling City Council Meetings another priority for our group, which is why representatives from the Friendlier City Project were present at the Wheeling City Council meeting when the mayor proclaimed June 10 as “Pride in Wheeling Day.”

On May 3 there was a proposal set forth by the Wheeling City Council which would ban the practice of conversion therapy. This allowed LGBTQIA+ youth to receive therapeutic practices that are not supported by leading medical organizations. These practices have been studied to cause harm to those who undergo the treatment. During the meeting, Councilwoman Ketchum stated “…this ordinance is about protecting children…it is also about ensuring that when we call ourselves ‘The Friendly City,’ we’re telling the truth.” Many people in Wheeling supported conversion therapy, but luckily, we were at the council meeting to speak out against this and to explain why there should be a ban. 

Friendlier City Project member Jim Beasely was one of many folks who spoke up at the meeting. “I am a proud member of The Friendlier City Project. I felt I had to speak up regarding conversion therapy,” said Beasley. “It’s a dangerous, discredited practice often forced upon minor LGBTQIA+ youth. A very large percentage who have been forced to participate in conversion therapy experienced depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide. In essence, if my words save even one life, then all of the bullying and taunting I had to endure as a young gay person will have been worth it.”

Wheeling City Council voted 4-3 to ban conversion therapy, making Wheeling the third city in West Virginia to do so. Without our voice in the room, they may not have been persuaded to vote in our favor. 

Pride Flag in Warwood’s Garden Park.

As we try our best to spread love and support for the LGBTQ+ community, there have been hardships as well. On June 1, after putting a Pride Flag up at Garden Park in Warwood, the flag was stolen. It was only up for three days. But, this setback doesn’t let the members of the project feel defeated. In fact, the project’s online presence has only been growing on Instagram and Facebook. We hope that this increased presence online will lead to more in-person community building, starting with our Show Your Pride event happening on June 30 at 6 p.m. at Clientele Art Studio in East Wheeling. 

Show Your Pride will be a free event open to those in the LGBTQ+ community and allies. We hope that through this event we can get even more people acquainted with our group and celebrate Pride Month. In addition to mixing and mingling, we will be giving out several free pride flags and plan to have live entertainment during the event. You can learn more about our Show Your Pride event here

Even though the Friendlier City Project is seeing major support throughout Wheeling, we know that this is only just the beginning. With everyone’s help, we truly believe we can make this Friendly City even friendlier. If you want to keep up with The Friendlier City Project, follow us on Instagram and Facebook. If you want to get more involved in our work, contact us at thefriendliercityproject@gmail.com.

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