Fayetteville Alderman John La Tour,
a Tea Party conservative and strident opponent of equal rights for gay people
, is under fire for challenging an employee of a local restaurant last Friday to prove her gender and talking of how he could prove his.
A manager asked La Tour to leave Arsaga's after the incident. That led him to put a post on his Facebook page, now gone, urging people to no longer do business with the restaurant. It also spawned a heavily trafficked on-line petition for La Tour's resignation. (Today, La Tour posted a Facebook comment praising the owner of Arsaga's.)
He says he has no intention of resigning and seems to say his remark was in jest. That claim should be viewed in light of his record of insulting remarks. From the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
which got comments from La Tour confirming at least some portions of the encounter:
La Tour often speaks of his religious opposition to homosexuality and transgender identity. He drew rebukes from other city officials during a council agenda session last month after asking whether a potential city contractor was a man or a woman and saying, "It's hard to tell these days."
A Facebook post
that gave rise to the on-line petition recounted the episode this way:
Yesterday fayetteville alderman John la tour ward 4 assaulted a dear friend in public demanding they choose a gender in a packed restaurant. He demanded she pick a gender declaiming loudly that he couldn't tell if she was a man or a woman. She is not transgendered and does not in any way present any ambiguity about gender in any way. She's a woman. He then explained that he was a man and could prove it by dropping his pants and showing his penis. That is bullying behavior and unacceptable on so many levels. Please call any news outlets you know and alert them to his "protests". I doubt offering to expose yourself would be considered protected speech even by the right wing activist Dugger family who funded his campaign. He should be kicked out of office.
The woman, an employee of the restaurant, has been described as "mortified" by the attention and has not spoken to reporters about it. The owner of the restaurant has said he didn't see what happened and wants to talk further to La Tour before commenting The alderman has been a regular customer and often talks politics. La Tour described the incident to the D-G this way:
La Tour said the incident began during his regular Friday morning stop at Arsaga's to meet a group of acquaintances. The music was overly loud despite his request to lower the volume, so he responded by dancing along with it, he said. He intended to ask the employee to dance with him but wanted to confirm she was a woman first, La Tour said, citing the ordinance.
"You can declare you're a man or you're a woman, whatever you want to," La Tour said. "I'm not going to ask a man to dance with me."
La Tour paints himself as a victim of people who disagree with his politics. They are just trying to make him look like a "buffoon," he told the D-G.
More than 2,100 have signed the petition
calling for La Tour's resignation.
Opposition to the Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance was central to his canpaign for election.
Says his Facebook page: "I believe in limited government, responsive government and strong families." And denigrating gay people, he could have added.
La Tour didn't respond to an e-mail request for comment.
UPDATE: I spoke with La Tour this morning and his account paralleled that in the D-G. How would he have proved he was a man? With his birth certificate, he said. He said he had made no reference to exposing himself and would not.
He said he had apologized to the woman before leaving and they seemed to have parted on good terms. He said he wouldn't likely ask someone again about their gender, though he insisted it is often hard to tell and he repeated his belief that Fayetteville's ordinance allows anyone to declare gender of their choice. (It doesn't.) He also said he was going to meet this morning with the owner of Arsaga's "I want to bury the hatchet," he said.
"The liberals here don't like me," he said. "I'm a conservative. I believe in free enterprise. I don't tell anyone what their sexual orientation should be .... As a city official, I don't dictate how you live .... And just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean I hate you."
He insisted the whole incident was a joking product of background music so loud it was hard for him to converse with friends. Told it couldn't be changed, " I decided the only thing left to do is dance. I kind of sashayed over to the counter and I was going to ask if she'd like to dance. But I don't dance with men. I said, 'Are you a woman.'"
The server was "taken aback by the question," he said. Then La Tour recounted that he said, "I'm a man and I can prove it." But he said, "The thought of pulling down my pants never entered my mind until I read the Facebook page."
As he left he said he told the woman, "If I've offended you, I"m sorry. .... I was just trying to point out how loud the music was. She said something and then said, 'Have a good day.'"
He said he always tried to be "friendly and respectful," including to the city's liberals.