At a press conference today, Chad Griffin, Arkansas native and president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT advocacy group, announced that his organization will run a full-page ad (see below) in the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s largest paper, suggesting that Arkansas is closed for business due to HB 1228, the discriminatory, anti-gay measure making its way through the legislature. It could be up for consideration by the Senate today.
Griffin also said he would deliver a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking him to veto HB 1228 (Hutchinson has said he will sign it in its current form), and inviting him to travel with Griffin to meet with more than 250 executives of Fortune 500 companies and other major businesses in New York next week. All have scored a 100 percent on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index and aren’t likely to operate in a state that makes discrimination the law of the land.
UPDATE: Standing in the rotunda of the state capitol building, HRC president Chad Griffin said that Senate Bill 202 — which forbids local municipalities from passing LGBT protections and was allowed to become law without the governor’s signature — and HB 1228, the “conscience protection” bill, cast “a very dark cloud” over the state he loves. Griffin said that though the values of the state he grew up in were all about freedom and love, a small political faction in the state legislature has spent the session waging war on LGBT people in the state, writing laws that would provide a license to discriminate to those prejudiced against gays and lesbians.
Griffin said that the immediate and long-term impact of the passage of HB 1228 would be three-fold: It would send a message that fair-minded corporations should steer clear of the state, it would make recruiting and retaining top talent very difficult, and, Griffin said, “It will do grave harm to the thousands of LGBT Arkansans all across this state,” while sending the message that they are second class citizens.
Griffin said that during the session, he and other HRC officials have “played ball” with the governor and members of the Senate and House. Now, he said, it appears those conversations may have fallen on deaf ears, or have been ignored. Griffin said that Gov. Asa Hutchinson knows that the right thing to do for Arkansas is to veto HB 1228, and will need to show his willingness to attract business to Arkansas through his actions on the bill. Otherwise, Griffin said, the legislature and Gov. Hutchinson risk “dragging the state to the wrong side of history,” Griffin said.
“Do what you know in your heart is right… Governor, we call on you to do the right thing and veto this hateful bill,” Griffin said.
Sharing the lectern with Griffin was Rev. Maxine Allen, a pastor with the United Methodist Church. Allen, who said that while HB 1228 claims to be about religious freedom, it’s actually about “religious bondage.” The bill is in opposition to the Arkansas she knows, Allen said. Allen, who is African-American, said that she’s old enough to remember the days of Jim Crow. HB 1228, Allen said, is a heinous bill that’s about segregation as well. “I know what it means when people hate you for the label you wear,” she said.
Also speaking today was chef Matt Bell from South on Main. Bell said that as a chef, he’s used to hiding in the back of the restaurant. “We’ve reached a point where no one can hide in the back any longer,” Bell said. “You must stand up.”
Bell said that his restaurant is built on the idea of hospitality to all, a place where he doesn’t employ or tolerate those who discriminate. In closing, he said that South on Main is welcoming to all people.
“It makes me a little sad,” Bell said, “that I live in a state where I have to tell you that.”