An invite for the governor and more on the struggle for gay rights in Arkansas | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An invite for the governor and more on the struggle for gay rights in Arkansas

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 1:52 PM


Monday was a dispiriting day for equality. SB 202, to prevent local governments from protecting the civil rights of LGBT people, became law with Gov. Asa Hutchinson's acquiescence. An even more damaging bill, HB 1228, which gives blanket state protection to gay discrimination (in the name of "conscience"), is awaiting Senate action.

But supporters of sexual equality battle on, even against daunting political numbers. At least one has reached out to Gov. Asa Hutchinson to lend an ear. Developments:

* TALES FROM THE SOUTH: END HATE: Paula Martin Morell, executive producer of the long-running NPR series, "Tales from the South,"  announces two special shows next week, "End Hate: True Stories Told by the LGBT Southerners Who Lived Them." Real people will talk about discrimination, love, obstacles, children, loss and more. One show will be Tuesday at the Arkansas Arts Center, the second at the Oyster Bar on Wednesday,

Morell has invited Gov. Asa Hutchinson to attend.  She shared her note to him with me. "Connecting through the power of storytelling is vital as we navigate this modern world," she wrote.

Sen. Bart Hester should be invited, too. He could tell the speakers what lies in store for them unless they come to his God.

* TALES FROM HILLCREST: Hutchinson could also do well to attend a forum scheduled Sunday in Hillcrest by the Stonewall Democrats. State Sens. Joyce Elliott and David Johnson, Reps. Warwick Sabin and Clarke Tucker and former Rep. and City Director Kathy Webb are among the panelists who'll be talking about the response to the current siege against gay rights and coping strategies. It will be at 4 p.m., still trying to nail down a forum.

UPDATE: The program will be held at the Arkansas Education Association auditorium, just down the road a piece from the original HIllcrest location idea. It's free and open to the public. The panel will talk specifically about the two key anti-gay bills before the legislature and answer question.

* LEGAL GROUND: Efforts continue in many cities including Little Rock, to enact ordinances and resolutions prohibited by SB 202, which was approved yesterday but won't have the force of law until 90 days after the legislative session is over. The idea of these actions is to ensure standing exists for a challenge to SB 202. Sadly, the Little Rock City Board, nominally leading the state's most progressive city, isn't progressive enough to be uniformly warm to the idea of treating gay citizens as equals.

* THE NEXT BATTLE: HB 1228, Rep. Bob Ballinger's truly pernicious bill is on the calendar of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It allows a person to cite religion to discriminate (against gay people) in any manner, whether or not an action deemed arising from a religious belief  "is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."  The bill is breathtaking in scope, with potential damage far beyond discrimination against gay people.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, split 4-4 on partisan lines, is not likely to recommend this bill for passage. But a simple majority vote is all that's necessary for the Republican-dominated Senate to pull the bill from committee and send it to the governor.

* AND WHAT OF THE GOVERNOR?: I've asked repeatedly for his view on HB 1228, hoping the outpouring of negative national attention to SB 202, a bill of the sort even Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed, might move him to more action. Some businesses really DO prefer to locate in more progressive places. So far, silence from his office. But he might address the issue at a news conference this afternoon.

UPDATE: I got this statement late this afternoon from his spokesman, J.R. Davis

We are reviewing the legislation. Though the Governor has questions about it, we expect some amendments to be offered, and so we will watch how it changes as it goes through the legislative process.

* SOMETHING TO BE FOR: Finally, we should have word soon of state civil rights legislation to extend some measure of protection to LGBT people — non-discrimination in employment would be a start. Hester and Ballinger keep saying this is the solution for discrimination. Let's have it and call the roll. We don't expect Hester and Ballinger to be on that roll. (And if they are on the roll up yonder, I think I'll take my chances elsewhere.)

* AND THE USUAL RAPERT MOMENT: The bully from Bigelow, Sen. Jason Rapert,  is NOT in favor of a Conway ordinance guaranteeing non-discrimination against Conway city employees. It's all about bathrooms, see. What if a transgender person used his or her appropriate restroom having once been another gender? Indeed. What if? Pee and move on.

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