In an open letter, Grant Tennille, former Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, stated that after the passage of HB 1288 “Arkansas finds itself, once again on the wrong side of history.” During his tenure at AEDC, Tennille argued that the state’s gay marriage ban made it more difficult to encourage companies to come to Arkansas because it suggested an atmosphere of intolerance. Here’s his letter in full: 

As we enter the final days of the legislative session, Arkansas finds itself, once again on the wrong side of history, using the power of government to enforce discrimination and division based on religion. This time, the mob’s target is the LGBT community; but the pose, the sentiment and the verbiage are unmistakeable. This is the same fight that has played out across the whole of human history. It’s the fight against the threat of the “other,” the different.

We are watching a re-run, and it’s tired, old and boring. We are a state of just under three million people, making us the 32nd most populous in the nation. Historically, the low level of educational attainment of our people has prevented Arkansas’s economy from expanding much beyond agriculture and extractive industries. As a people, we are poorer, more uneducated and in worse health than our fellow Americans. It has always been this way.

But it doesn’t have to be.

There are new choices and new opportunities before us. Technology is changing the ability of places like Arkansas to expand their economies. We’ve made huge strides in improving the educational attainment of our citizens, and we remain committed to the important work of continued progress in that arena. But if we’re going to create an Arkansas that is vibrant and growing, we must wake up, live up to the promise of our motto, “The Land of Opportunity,” and stop allowing the unevolved and ignorant among us to dominate the discourse

There are three million of us, out of a global population that now exceeds seven billion. We can’t afford to put anyone on the sidelines just because they are different. We need every Arkansan of every possible sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity and ability to get in the game and live their best and most productive possible life. That’s how we’ll grow. We need 100% of everyone’s energy to overcome some significant obstacles that our history has placed on our path to prosperity. When we say, “we don’t want you on the team,” because your identity makes us uncomfortable, our team shrinks. We lose the strength that diversity of thought brings to any endeavor. We leave the obstacles of our history in place, and our journey toward the prosperity we’re seeking is further delayed.

We need to welcome anyone who wants to join us and work hard to build Arkansas. Let that be the mission that unites us all, but failing that let’s agree that guaranteeing fundamental human rights and freedoms for every Arkansan is where we have to start. Let’s start by explaining to our neighbors that freedom does not mean never having to see or confront anything that offends your sensibilities. Freedom means that you get to have those sensibilities, and you get to be offended. You can even tell people how offended you are, in public, on the airwaves, in print. What you can’t do is tell everyone else that they have to live by your rules. Our Constitution is pretty clear on that.

Now, some will look at that last paragraph and say, “Wait a minute, this is a representative democracy where the majority rules, and the majority has now said, ‘these are the standards by which we want to live in our communities.'” To which I say, you are swimming upstream against a global tide, and it will sweep you away. You are doing lasting damage to the reputation of this state and to its future economic prospects. It’s time to stop. It’s time to do the most conservative thing you could do: look at the Constitution, and do what it says.

We all have a vested interest in ensuring equal treatment under the law for every Arkansan, and that’s really all anyone needs to know about this struggle. Every other issue injected into this debate is a red herring designed to focus people on our differences, to send signals to the most primitive parts of our brains and awaken fear.

This is not about religion, no matter how many times anyone tells us that it is. The act of extending full citizenship and legal benefits to gay people does not violate anyone’s religious rights or freedom. This isn’t really about love either, although it would be nice if it were. This is about the law, pure and simple. Do our fundational documents mean what they say they do, or don’t they?

That question may be answered in a matter of hours here in Arkansas, and we’re not likely to appreciate the outcome. So what do we do next?

I’m going to continue to speak out, and I’m asking you all to do the same, most particularly, my straight friends; even more particularly, my straight, male friends.

Gentlemen, our steadfast support of human rights and equal treatment under the law is what will win this fight, and we have a moral obligation to secure and protect those rights for everyone, particularly those folks who have been forced to the margins of society because of their difference. It’s time for more of us to speak up and speak out.

This is OUR fight, but far too many of us have opted to watch from a distance, choosing the safety of silence over the perils of real leadership. We’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by the mob, but that has to stop. It’s time to talk.

We need to talk to our families and friends, to our neighbors and co-workers, in Sunday school and around the water-cooler. We need to explain that on questions of fundamental human rights and equal protection under the law, there is no room for compromise, and that Arkansas will be made stronger and more competitive as a result of ending discrimination against its citizens.

We can’t afford to be silent anymore. Our home is in danger. Our reputation and prospects for future prosperity are imperiled. That’s what’s at stake here.

Speak out. You can start by sharing this message with friends and colleagues.


Grant Tennille