John M. Becker

Arkansas Bans LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinances

Filed By John M. Becker | February 24, 2015 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination law, Arkansas, Chad Griffin, Family Research Council, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, special rights

arkansas.jpgAn Arkansas bill that effectively bans LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances became law at the end of the day Monday.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson allowed SB-202, which blocks cities and counties from expanding anti-discrimination protections beyond classes protected by state law, to pass without his signature. While the measure doesn't explicitly mention LGBT people (presumably in order to avoid running afoul of the Supreme Court's Romer v. Evans decision), it was specifically intended to prevent municipalities from enacting ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination -- and introduced in response to one city's attempt to do just that.

The AP reports:

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.

Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, which had been the focus of an intense social media campaign by opponents of the measure, criticized the prohibition late Monday afternoon. The world's largest retailer includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.

More details, after the break.

As we've previously reported here on Bilerico, the response to the Arkansas measure from national LGBT leaders, political figures, and the state's business community has been muted at best. Their silence -- right up until the last possible moment, in many cases -- caught the attention of the Washington Post:

Several 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."

In an e-mail Monday, a Tyson spokesperson said that the company does not comment publicly on pending legislation. He added that the company already has a gay non-discrimination policy.

Wal-Mart eventually came out against SB 202 late Monday night, after business hours. The company was founded in Arkansas and is headquartered in Bentonville. It also has a 90 out of 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which is supposed to reflect its equitable treatment of its LGBT employees...

On Monday evening, upon hearing of Wal-Mart's last-minute announcement, Schlittner sent this statement: "This meaningless gesture is a day late and a dollar short."

Legendary gay activist and Huffington Post Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile specifically called out Arkansas native Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, in a blog post on Friday morning for what Signorile says is a lack of engagement in the Arkansas fight:

It's perplexing, but this seems to be part of a cocky strategy to act like winners and not give credence or attention to the haters. But when a state successfully passes an abhorrent, dangerous bill like the one in Arkansas, the only response is a loud, public condemnation, and demands that all your allies, including your business and political allies, speak out and condemn it. No matter if you lose, you must always show the opposition you will put up a nasty fight. Instead, HRC's [Fred] 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.

Griffin released a statement later on Friday to the Arkansas Times asking Gov. Hutchinson to veto SB-202. The paper described the statement as coming "late in the fray." HRC's state chapter in Arkansas has been vocally opposed to the measure since it was introduced earlier this month.

A group of national LGBT and civil rights organizations -- including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the American Civil Liberties Union -- also released a statement condemning the bill... on Saturday, just two days before the deadline for Gov. Hutchinson to take action.

Arkansas is only the second state to enact such an odious anti-LGBT law (Tennessee was the first, in 2011). But bigots in other corners of the country may soon follow suit -- Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (an anti-gay hate group), calls the Arkansas law a "roadmap for other states," and FRC spokesman Peter Sprigg says the group "would support the passage of similar bills."

A Republican state lawmaker in Texas -- where 7.5 million people live in cities that have enacted protections for LGBT people -- has already proposed an Arkansas-style bill that would likely overturn those local ordinances.

LGBT leaders and organizations must speak out more forcefully against these bigoted measures in the future -- and demand that our so-called "allies" in politics and business do the same.

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