Arkansas Hub

Conway, Arkansas Approves LGBT Rights Ordinance Despite Discriminatory New State Law


Following a 6-2 vote Tuesday by the city council, city employees of Conway, Arkansas can (for the time being) go to work with the assurance that they can’t be fired for their sexuality or gender identity. Conway mayor Tab Townsell threw his full support behind the decision to extend protections to the town’s LGBT population despite many of his more conservative constituents voicing concern for their religious liberties.

Mark Ledbetter and Mary Smith, the two council members who opposed the new protections, expressed their belief that the public had not been given adequate time to fully appreciate the implications of heightened job security for Conway’s queer workforce.

Conway’s move to legally protect its LGBT employees comes just days after Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson allowed SB 202 to become law - legislation that expressly forbids local town governments from enacting pro-LGBT policies like Conway’s. Specifically SB 202 requires that:

“A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.”

The law is set to go into effect 90 days after the state Legislature formally adjourns, which is currently set for May. After that, Conway's ordinance will no longer protect LGBT folks. 

One of the chief concerns raised by opponents of SB 202 was the chilling effect that sanctioning discrimination against queer workers might have on the local economy. Following Hutchinson’s decision representatives from Tyson Foods and Walmart both spoke out on behalf of their companies, expressing their disagreement with the law.

Outcry from large LGBT advocacy organizations like the HRC were conspicuously missing immediately after SB 202 went into effect, prompting Michael Signorile to claim social “malpractice.” Not seizing upon any and all opportunities to draw attention to these kinds of injustices, Signorile reasoned, was irresponsible and linked to a broader sense of gay complacency:

“And it's part of the right's plan to roll back LGBT rights while many LGBT people become complacent or apathetic, buying into this idea that full civil rights are inevitable, pointing, for example, to polling about young people being more accepting, and, well, doing pretty much what many women foolishly did in the early years of the backlash against women's liberation.”

HRC President Chad Griffin soon issued an official statement after widespread criticism for his organization's silence on the developments in Arkansas:

"I’m proud to call Arkansas my home state—the place where my entire extended family has lived for years. I know these bills do not reflect the Arkansas values.

They certainly do not reflect this state’s commitment to growing a 21st Century economy that attracts good paying jobs—and to guaranteeing a business climate that welcomes everyone who is willing to work hard and build a better future for themselves and for their community. These kinds of political attacks have been rejected by Republicans and Democrats all across this country. Let’s not let Arkansas be dragged backward by an unrepresentative minority."

Matt Baume Tackles Arkansas' New Anti-LGBT Law and the Terrifying Roadmap Towards Future Discrimination: VIDEO


In a follow-up video to last week's yummy fireside chat on the ongoing "cake wars" and why bakeries in certain states can't refuse to do business with gay folks, Matt Baume tackles Arkansas' new law banning local governments from passing LGBT anti-discrimination protections.

Taking viewers on a trip back in time to uncover the insidious origins of the bill, Baume reveals how the benign-sounding "Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act" could very well serve as a blueprint for future anti-LGBT laws across the country. 

As Baume says, if there's anything we learned from Star Wars Episode I, it's that "the best way to conceal a great evil - an evil that can shake a Republic to its very foundations - is to make it incredibly boring."


Continue reading "Matt Baume Tackles Arkansas' New Anti-LGBT Law and the Terrifying Roadmap Towards Future Discrimination: VIDEO" »

Arkansas 'License to Discriminate' Bill Fails to Pass Out of State Senate Committee


A bill in Arkansas that would strengthen religious-based discrimination against LGBT people failed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The news comes days after Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson let a bill banning local governments from passing LGBT anti-discrimination protections become law. 

The Associated Press reports:

HutchinsonThe governor said Tuesday he had concerns about unintended consequences of the "conscience protection" legislation, but stopped short of saying whether he opposed it.

Bentonville-based Wal-Mart's criticism of the measure was nearly identical to concerns it raised about the local ordinances law. Apple Inc. also spoke out against the measure on Wednesday, saying "inclusion inspires innovation," and urging state's legislators to vote against the bill.

Despite the bill's defeat, advocacy groups ramped up lobbying efforts in case it's revived. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT rights group, said Wednesday it was launching a $25,000 digital and television ad purchase to urge lawmakers to oppose the "conscience protection" measure.

The Arkansas Municipal League and the Association of Arkansas Counties also opposed the bill, saying it would open local governments to increased litigation over their ordinances.

Arkansas Bill Banning LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinances Becomes Law


Arkansas' anti-gay SB 202 became law yesterday after Governor Asa Hutchinson made good on his promise to do nothing to prevent the discriminatory bill from being adopted. The law bans local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections to Arkansans on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Arkansas is the second state to pass such a measure. Tennessee has a similar law on the books that was passed in 2011. 

The AP reports:

6a00d8341c730253ef01b7c7525109970b-200wiRepublican Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed legislation to go into law without his signature that bars cities and counties from expanding anti-discrimination ordinances beyond what the state already prohibits, making Arkansas the second state to approve such a prohibition. Arkansas' anti-discrimination protections don't include sexual orientation or gender identity. Monday marked the end of the five-day window for Hutchinson to take action on the bill or allow it to become law.

Hutchinson had raised concerns about the bill infringing on local control, but said he wouldn't veto it. His office said his position hadn't changed and he allowed the proposal to become law, despite a last-ditch campaign by advocacy groups urging him to veto the legislation. The law won't take effect until 90 days after the Legislature formally adjourns, which is currently set for May.

Opponents of the ban were weighing a lawsuit to challenge the measure's constitutionality.

"It's just another scar on the face of a state that really doesn't need any more signs of an intolerance toward outsiders, toward people that some people disapprove of," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.

The measure was introduced in reaction to an ordinance in the city of Fayetteville, where voters expanded the city's anti-discrimination protections. Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas enacted a similar measure earlier this month, and Little Rock elected officials are weighing expanding that city's discrimination protections.

Unsurprisingly, the Family Research Council praised the measure. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies with the group commented, "We would support the passage of similar bills in other states." 

Meanwhile, many wondered why there had been no word from high-profile figures with ties to Arkansas and why national LGBT advocacy groups were so slow to address the issue. The Washington Post reports:

6a00d8341c730253ef01bb07f61d4b970d-250wiSeveral activists blamed the absence of national politicians or corporations speaking out against SB 202. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton, even with their Arkansas ties, have issued public statements about it. Until today, neither had some of the state’s largest employers, like Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt, a trucking company.

“What we haven’t heard from are businesses inside the state, though some of those businesses are very supportive of LGBTQ grassroots organizations,” said Laura Phillips, an activist based in Fayetteville.

“It’s like that saying,” she continued, invoking a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “that the silence of your friends is worse than the voices of your enemies. The silence from the business side has just been deafening, and that’s the most terrifying part.”

Walmart eventually came out against the ordinance, saying through a spokesperson, "We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief and sends the wrong message about Arkansas." Tyson, however, would only go so far as to send an email stating "that the company does not comment publicly on pending legislation," adding "that the company already has a gay non-discrimination policy." The policy, however, will likely become toothless in the eyes of the law in Arkansas with the passing of SB 202. 

Noted activist Scott Wooledge, who you'll recall played an instrumental role in the identifying of the three gay bashers currently on trial for an attack on a gay couple in Philadelphia, spoke to The Post about the lack of movement from national organizations over SB 202 and about his own involvement:  “For some reason, many LGBT organizations have been slow to respond on state level fights,” he explained. “Mostly I stepped up because I felt like there was not going to be a national response.”

Michelangelo Signorile went further, accusing the HRC of malpractice for its silence on SB 202:

Signorile was directing much of his criticism at HRC president Chad Griffin, who hails from Arkansas. “Whatever the reasons, many LGBT national leaders are nowhere on this terrible and potentially enormously impactful law,” Signorile wrote on Friday morning. (Griffin eventually released a statement to the Arkansas Times in a blog post dated Friday afternoon.) 

As for the future, activists are weighing both legal and ballot measure challenges to SB 202. 

Cher Throws Shade at Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson for Allowing Anti-LGBT Bill to Become Law


Earlier today we reported that a bill seeking to prohibit cities in Arkansas from enacting LGBT non-discrimination ordinances is expected to go into effect tomorrow after Governor Asa Hutchinson said Friday he plans on letting the bill become law without his signature.

...But not before Cher speaks her mind on the matter:

The bill passed the Arkansas Legislature February 13, but LGBT organizations and leaders were slow to react. Other last minute efforts to pressure former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton (and Hillary) and Bentonville-based Wal-Mart to speak out against the measure appear to have been unsuccessful.

LGBT leaders may now be wishing they could turn back time and start sounding the alarm earlier...

Gay Organizations Issue Last Minute Call for Arkansas Governor to Veto Bill Banning LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinances


A bill seeking to prohibit cities and municipalities in Arkansas from enacting LGBT non-discrimination ordinances is expected to go into effect tomorrow after Governor Asa Hutchinson said Friday he plans on letting the bill become law without his signature.

National organizations are now finally calling on Gov. Hutchinson to veto what they call an "unconstitutional" law meant to single out LGBT people for discrimination, but it may be too little too late. 

The following statement is a portion of the response from the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Arkansas, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, and National Center for Lesbian Rights:

HutchinsonSB 202 was passed to thwart cities like Little Rock and Eureka Springs that recently have enacted sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections, and like Fayetteville, which tried to do so. So if Governor Hutchinson allows this bill to take effect, it will amount to a giant, flashing "Gays Stay Away" sign. It will block sincere local efforts to show that Arkansas communities are welcoming places beckoning talent, innovation and workforce diversity. It will do precisely what Arizona's Governor Brewer decided to avoid last year when she vetoed that state's "discrimination as religion" bill. [...]

SB 202 is misleadingly called the "Intrastate 30 Commerce Improvement Act." But make no mistake -- this bill is not about alleviating drags on commerce within Arkansas, and no one truly thinks it is. A bill with that goal might, for example, reduce the variation in municipal tax rates and other local rules that actually can bedevil businesses. But it's not burdensome for businesses to treat gay and transgender people fairly. In fact, dozens of research studies have found again and again that ending discrimination, and supporting diversity, is good for business.

So the real purpose isn't helping businesses, it's targeting LGBT people. This is obvious from the sponsors' consistent and constant claims that this is needed because of an ordinance in Fayetteville that provided protections for LGBT people. And as in Arizona last year, the speed of the bill has meant the critiques are now coming in a wave after the legislature whizzed the bill through.

This eleventh hour effort by Gay Inc. hasn't gone unnoticed by activists, however. In a column Friday on HuffPost, Michelangelo Signorile blasted gay leaders for not speaking out louder, sooner and warned the bill could become a template for future anti-gay efforts across the nation:

The passage of a draconian, stealthily worded anti-gay bill set to become law in Arkansas, with little resistance from the national business community, and muted response from even national LGBT leaders and figures such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, raises two very important questions: 1) Have gay leaders become so cocky, so deluded by victories that they don't see the backlash organizing right in front of them (or do they see it, but have some foolish, toothless plan to battle it that is equally fed by their delusions)?; 2) Has the anti-gay right found its gay "version" of "partial birth abortion," or is it at least coming close to it as it tries out various strategies through trial and error?

He also lit into HRC and Arkansas-based corporations for remaining silent on the bill:

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 3.40.38 PMNo matter if you lose, you must always show the opposition you will put up a nasty fight. Instead, HRC's Sainz and its President Chad Griffin, who hails from Arkansas and has thought nothing of rushing back for a photo op when local activists have had wins in the past, have said absolutely nothing about it. Nor have they clearly put the pressure on business leaders like Walmart, headquartered in Arkansas, and which likes its 90% HRC Corporate Equality Index score, to speak out. And we haven't seen any comment from Bill Clinton, for whom Griffin used to work in the White House, or Hillary Clinton, for whom Griffin will raise millions of dollars in a presumed presidential race, as he did for Obama.

On Friday, we reported on an open letter written by Donald Collins, the gay brother of Arkansas Rep. Charlie Collins, who voted to approve the bill, scolding his brother for supporting discrimination. The letter was posted on VetoSB202, a 'take action' site which appeared over the weekend which provides phone numbers and contact information to Hutchinson's office.

In 2011, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a similar bill into law


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