Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola expressed opposition to me yesterday to Sen. Bart Hester’s bill to prevent cities from passing laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
He limited his opposition to a structural response.
As Arkansas Municipal League president we consistently do not support bills which erode local control, which would include Hester’s bill. He is to speak to the executive committee of the AML next Wednesday.
This was an e-mail exchange. I asked him for more thoughts on the core issue, treatment of gay people. He has not responded. If he does, I’ll pass it along. Meanwhile, this is how I wish Little Rock’s mayor had responded.
Of course local control is important to all cities, just as it was when the legislature stripped cities of the ability to tailor local gun laws to unique circumstances.
But this is about more than governance. Sen. Hester introduced this legislation in response to Fayetteville’s passage of an ordinance that expanded civil rights protection to LGBT people. The law aims at insuring that LGBT people may be legally discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Little Rock’s largest city is home to the state’s largest population of LGBT people. As mayor, I must acknowledge the thousands of LGBT people who live here. They are our friends, our neighbors, our employers and our employees. Most important, they are human beings deserving of the same fair treatment enjoyed by everyone else. We are a kind and progressive city. We must oppose legalized discrimination against this group of citizens, just as we’d oppose a return of Jim Crow laws that omitted people of color from the full blessing of the law. Our city is open for business, investment and creativity by all of good faith. We won’t tolerate discrimination against those who want to join us.
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan spoke eloquently in this vein when the City Council adopted its ordinance, later overturned in a referendum campaign driven by misinformation and nominal conservative Christians.
The ugly truth is that Stodola’s timidness is a considered political strategy. The accepted wisdom is that the majority of the Arkansas legislature believes in legal discrimination against gay people. Opponents of the law have sought a message — local control — that avoids the elephant in the room. It flies in the face of the strategy that produced a surge of support for marriage equality. Gay people have come out of the closet. American awoke to the reality that they are friends, relatives and co-workers. It becomes harder to fear the different when confronted by its ever-so-normal face. Placating the holdouts, like Hester, only forces people back into the closet.
If you can’t say this in Little Rock, where can you say it?