Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jonesboro mayor cold to civil rights ordinance

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 5:46 AM

click to enlarge HAROLD PERRIN: Jonesboro LGBT employees need no legal protection, he says.
  • HAROLD PERRIN: Jonesboro LGBT employees need no legal protection, he says.
Though Little Rock made progress on equal rights Tuesday, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin reportedly indicated that he isn't interested in bringing the guarantee of equal treatment to Jonesboro city employees.

The Jonesboro City Council has been asked to adopt a policy such as Conway and Little Rock to promise non-discrimination in city employment on grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ryan Carter, an ASU student and organizer for End Discrimination in Jonesboro, which consists of ASU, church groups and others, said the proposal wasn't on the Council agenda last night. But Mayor Harold Perrin reportedly said that the ordinance is unnecessary. He said the city doesn't discriminate and follows all federal and state laws, much as Gov. As Hutchinson has said in defending his refusal to issue a non-discrimination order for Arkansas state employees. The ordinance, which amends the city employee handbook, is on the May 5 council agenda and has already met opposition from others on the council.

Said Carter:

To protect city workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity is a very modest proposal. It is the very least that the city can do for its LGBT citizens. There is no significant reason not to do so. The handbook already protects individuals based on 'genetic information' and was last revised this past November to include a social media policy. This issue is certainly important enough to warrant a revision of the handbook. The only change to the equal opportunity employment section we propose to make is to insert the words 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' twice. No other changes are made.

This is a good opportunity to say something prompted by last night's action in Little Rock, a choreographed piece of theater with no public debate and no further comments from city board members who'd demonstrated unfriendliness toward equal rights  on previous occasions.

Don't break an arm patting yourselves on the back, Little Rock City Board. The absence of the leading local hate group in opposition suggests they saw last night's measure as little threat to the cold and ugly reality of the law.

In Little Rock, Jonesboro and the rest of Arkansas, if you are a gay or transgender person, the law allows:

A landlord to refuse to rent you an apartment.

A hotel to refuse to rent you a room.

A restaurant to refuse you a hamburger.

A barber to refuse to cut your hair.

A  business to refuse to hire you. (And they may fire you).

All this, simply on account of sexual orientation or a change in birth gender.

Contrary to what people like Perrin and Hutchinson disingenuously suggest, it is the law in Arkansas that gay people may be discriminated against. It remains the overarching law in the U.S. as well that gay people may be discriminated against in private employment, though there's some protection for federal workers.

The Arkansas legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson like it this way and have specifically and pointedly refused to change the law.  Last night, Little Rock merely said it doesn't want to do business with those who legally discriminate.

It is a step in right direction. Better than Jonesboro. Better than the state government of Arkansas. Which isn't saying much. But it IS saying something and, it is hoped, will further drive the resisters into the shadows, as the civil rights movement did to open racial bigotry in the 1960s.

I was reminded the other day by a Republican legislator of the reputed King quote: "No one is free until we are all free."

UPDATE: I understand an ordinance similar to that adopted in Little Rock will be considered by the Hot Springs City Council in two weeks. Small steps, yes, but in the right direction.

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