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  • A rainbow flag hangs waves outside Edna

    A rainbow flag hangs waves outside Edna's salon in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., Feb. 9, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Socially conservative Wheeling, West Virginia barred discrimination in city council meeting.

When Mike Lujano and George Lenz hoisted a rainbow flag outside their business in a Victorian brownstone on Market Street two decades ago, they found that few neighbors in socially conservative Wheeling, West Virginia, knew it was a symbol of gay pride.

The married owners of Edna's hair salon in this faded industrial city of 28,000 at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains never dreamed that one day they would be at a packed city council meeting, cheering the passage of an ordinance barring discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity.

Defying stereotypes in the U.S. culture wars over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, Wheeling is among a recent wave of small cities, many in parts of the country that voted for Republican President Donald Trump, to embrace these protections.

About 50 U.S. municipalities in 15 states have added LGBT nondiscrimination measures since 2015, when same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. More than half of those cities and towns are located in counties that backed Trump in November's election, and all are in states he won, a Reuters analysis found.

Local leaders say accepting diversity is not just the right thing to do, but needed to attract jobs and investment. 

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