Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has long been known as "the gay capital of the Ozarks."
But in a state that recently banned LGBT protections and passed an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" law, the popular resort town increasingly finds itself at the epicenter of the battle for equality.
The latest culture clash occurred this weekend, when Eureka Springs simultaneously hosted one of its three annual "Diversity Weekends" as well as the Celebrate Jesus Easter Parade.
A pro-LGBT Methodist Church asked to participate in the parade, but was turned away. OzarksFirst.com reports:
The Celebrate Jesus Easter Parade has been growing in Eureka Springs over the past three years. This year the Eureka Springs First Methodist Church applied to be in the parade, wanting to carry a sign saying "Jesus loves all." The church was denied, and now they're asking why.
First United Methodist of Eureka Springs applied to be in the parade, and was initially accepted. One week before the parade, however, they were told they were no longer welcome. Church member Suzie Bell believes it's because of their stance on the LGBT community.
"They wanted to know what our banner was going to say, and it said "Jesus loves all. They had decided that they did not want us in the parade, and that we weren't welcome." Bell said.
Bell said she believes the church was turned away "based purely on our love and acceptance of the LGBT community." Meanwhile, parade director Laura Nichols released a statement that failed to explain the decision. From the statement:
"This day isn't a day of pointing fingers or playing the blame game. This parade is to honor our Lord and Savior and for praising God for sending His only Son who willingly went to the cross, died and rose on the third day that when we repent of our sins and accept Him. ...
"Regardless of what has been stated in the papers. We do not have anything against the Methodist Church. After all my uncle was a Methodist minister. Nor do we have anything against the homosexual community. When I worked downtown I had homosexual people that I considered my friends and still do."
With the Arkansas Legislature set to ban local LGBT protections in February, Eureka Springs quickly passed a nondiscrimination ordinance, in hopes that officials could eventually challenge the state law in court. Then, last week, the Legislature passed an anti-LGBT religious freedom law that was ultimately revised before being signed by the governor due to backlash. But the friction between LGBT-friendly Eureka Springs and anti-LGBT forces goes back far beyond that.
The massive Christ of the Ozarks statue (right) overlooks the town from a theme park that is home to theatrical re-enactments of the events around Jesus’s crucifixion. But attendance at the park dropped off as Eureka Springs became known as a gay destination, and it closed in 2012 before reopening recently, according to The Guardian.
The Rev. Phil Wilson, of First Christian Church, was one of the stars of the American Family Association's 2007 video, "They're Coming To Your Town," billed as “a look at how a handful of homosexual activists infiltrated the Eureka Springs, Arkansas, government and changed the very moral fibre of the city”.
Wilson is now leading opposition to Eureka Springs' LGBT protections — which will be voted on in May — based on discredited arguments about transgender bathroom use.
The Guardian reports:
“There have been many things that have happened in Eureka Springs that have made us be perceived as an eminently desirable homosexual destination,” he said. “We have 6,000 years of Judeo-Christian history that has affirmed that homosexuality is morally wrong and we live in a society that says it’s morally right.”
Asked if he truly believed that Christians in the US were under threat of oppression and needed laws to protect them, he referenced the Islamist terror attack that killed 147 people in Kenya on Thursday.
“It’s on Fox News continually in the last day or two,” he said. “I see persecutions.”
Watch OzarksFirst.com's report on the parade and a promo for AFA's hate video "They're Coming To Your Town," AFTER THE JUMP ...