Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The Sunday morning slaughter at a gay club in Orlando, Fla., had all the elements of the three-legged stool of contemporary Dixie politics.
A professed follower of a fundamentalist religion who was said to be repelled by gay men and who possessed a concealed carry permit used legally obtained weapons to shoot more than 100 people before police finally killed him.
Invocations of God, unfettered access to guns and discrimination against gays are popular political themes in Dixie.
The wrinkle in Orlando was that the killer, Omar Mateen, was a different sort of fundamentalist — Muslim. He also said he swore his allegiance to the militant Islamic State (relatives said he was more mentally unbalanced than devoutly religious; he also claimed ties to various radical groups viewed as enemies of ISIS).
Gun control and the peril of Islamic immigrants dominated the immediate political discussion. The third leg of the Dixie political triad — gays — was harder to find.
Politicians who've said ugly things about gay people — Mike Huckabee, for example — were quick to post the now-cliched "thoughts and prayers" on social media. But the strident anti-gay politicians provided no words of comfort about, much less acknowledge, the special terror that the attack held for LGBT people.
President Obama did. But Gov. Hutchinson did not, nor did any of Arkansas's Republican congressmen. Sen. Tom Cotton offered prayers for victims and thanks to first responders, for example, but no mention of gay targeting. At least he didn't repeat the cold comment he once uttered on CNN in defense of the Arkansas legislation to allow discrimination against LGBT people in the name of (his) religion. Gay people should get some perspective, he declaimed. "In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay."
Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican legislator, tweeted: "That evil man needed a good God who would have changed him into a person whose love forbids such evil acts." This rang a bit hollow from a man who's led the fight for legal discrimination against gay people.
Frank Bruni, a gay man who writes a column for the New York Times, said it was not a time for identity politics (indeed, the story grew still more complicated by reports that the shooter might himself be a conflicted gay man.) But he also wrote: "... Orlando is an understandable prompt for questions about our own degrees of inclusion and fairness and whether we do all that we should to keep L.G.B.T. people safe. We don't."
Amen to that. In Arkansas, we encourage a poisonous atmosphere toward gays. The governor and most of the legislature support legal discrimination in hiring, housing or even feeding a gay person. They also favor legislation to prevent cities with a fairer outlook from promoting inclusiveness on the local level.
The slaughter in Orlando occurred not long before Texarkana voters will decide whether to repeal a unanimously approved city ordinance to prohibit discrimination in city personnel practices on account of sexual orientation or gender. The ordinance is being fought on the familiar, and specious, "boys in the girls bathroom" argument, but also on a broader desire to discriminate against gay people.
Dennis Young, a former Texarkana legislator, sent me a photo of people demonstrating in favor of repeal Sunday afternoon, while bodies still lay in the blood-soaked Orlando club. The protestors, he said, included the Fayetteville lawyer Travis Story, who is a partner in legal practice with Rep. Bob Ballinger. Story led the fight against the Fayetteville nondiscrimination ordinance. He's been close to the Duggar family, which poured money into legal discrimination in Fayetteville (even as they coped with messy problems of their own at home.)
Young wrote, " It is absolutely, totally revolting that they are doing this at all, but certainly even more repugnant that this comes less than 24 hours of the worst mass murder in the history of our country. God save our country if people like these ever gain control."
Sorry, Dennis, but they ARE in control in Arkansas. No roadside signs are necessary to spot them. By their silence in the face of horror you may know them.
Thoughts and prayers, y'all.
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