Jackson County Sheriff posts disparaging social media comments about pageant winner

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers

The sheriff of Jackson County has garnered attention on social media for recent disparaging comments about a pageant winner.

Shortly after Kataluna Enriquez won the Miss Nevada USA Pageant, Jackson County Sheriff Ross Mellinger posted his thoughts on his personal Facebook page. Enriquez is the first openly transgender woman advancing to the Miss USA Pageant.

Mellinger made fun of her body and called being transgender "a craze."

A screenshot of a photo posted to Kataluna Enriquez's Instagram account. Enriquez was the first transgender woman to win Miss Nevada USA. She will be competing for Miss USA in November.

He was elected sheriff in 2020. He declined to comment about the posts when contacted by Jackson County Newspapers.

The Facebook post from June 29 got 136 reactions, 57 comments and eight shares.

The sheriff's post unleashed a string of demeaning and belittling comments about trans people. One person called the pageant winner a "sick SOB." Others decried her gender identity.

West Virginia has gotten poor marks from human rights organizations for its lack of protection for the LGBTQ community.

Last year, 24/7 Wall St. ranked the state 30th in terms of the U.S. states most welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

Over the last several years, West Virginia lawmakers have tried to update the state's Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ people, but they have not yet succeeded. Some state officials have openly said they would not support such legislation, prompting state Senate President Mitch Carmichael to say, "[W]e have to get out of this concept in West Virginia that there is something to fear from that segment of our population."

The state even considered legislation that would prohibit protections for LGBTQ people that don't already exist under state law.

Mellinger made the post on Tuesday, June 29.

Justin Goland, a Ravenswood resident, said he's disappointed that Mellinger made the posts. Goland voted for Mellinger to become sheriff in November, and now he's worried that his posts will create a dangerous ripple effect in the community.

"When kids see that they look at that as a role model," Goland said. "When you have somebody portraying that type of transphobic behavior, you're telling kids that's OK."

Goland said he's always been an LGBTQ community ally, but when he found out his daughter was gay, he became more involved. Now, he's determined to raise awareness about the LGBTQ community in Jackson County.

Jackson County Sherriff Ross Mellinger made this post on WSAZ's Facebook post about Miss Nevada advancing to the Miss USA Pageant.

The sheriff's comments may just be words, Goland said, but if someone is already confused about their sexuality — posts like this can make them feel more alone.

Jackson County Commissioner President Dick Waybright said he thinks the county is welcoming of all people. He doesn't see the commission proposing anything "for or against" transgender-related issues at this time.

"People have the right to live their life the way they want to live," Waybright said.

Ross Mellinger

Mellinger made a public political party switch in March. When he was elected as sheriff he was a Democrat and in March he became a Republican, according to WSAZ.

The President of Jackson County's Republican Committee Chairwoman Linda Quillen declined to comment on Mellinger's posts.

Republican committee member Christina Gossett said the Jackson County group welcomes "any and all legal voters."

She said prior to seeing this post, she's never seen "any kind of problem" with transgender people in the community.

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.