I got an e-mail response Saturday night from Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola to my question about his position on the city civil rights ordinance, filed Friday for future consideration by the City Board of Directors.
As you know, I have spoken in several different forums against the discriminatory effect of HB 1228. So you should be able to conclude that I am supportive of an ordinance and have been working on additional language which may be added. The Board policy re timing is that if an ordinance is proposed by a city director, it is to be introduced 2 weeks prior to being placed on the agenda.
The ordinance, developed by new City Director Kathy Webb, will be introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, but not acted on. Stodola didn’t respond to a followup question on what additions he might have in mind. As written, the ordinance puts in law a city non-discrimination policy for city employees that includes sexual orientation and gender identity among other protected classes. It also will require city vendors to agree to non-discrimination policies.
UPDATE: In response to some subsequent questions, the mayor said:
Since the operative language memorializes existing policy and contract language we already use in our contracts, my understanding is that we can vote on it a week from Tuesday. I would like to share additional ideas and language with Kathy [Webb] since she authored this ordinance. We have been trying to get together, which I hope will be today or tomorrow.
Existing contracts already require vendors to agree not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender?
I checked that out last night and Bruce confirmed it with Tom Carpenter.
Unclear to me when and how that policy was enacted. But an ordinance is another step, if a small one, but also a step that can put the city in a position to challenge state efforts to prohibit such measures.
UPDATE: Some federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rulings have said sexual orientation and gender identity could be a ground for challenge of employment actions. But there is no specific mention of orientation or gender in the city’s contract cause, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said. And there is NO federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment on ground of sexual orientation. Nor is there a state law. Stodola does no gay people a service by seeming to suggest this is an empty ordinance, limited though it may be.
The news inspired communications among a group of clergy organizing in support of the ordinance. A note from retired Rabbi Gene Levy, which has already drawn a number of supportive responses, is a worthy summary of the context — whatever happened in the legislature it did nothing to advance equal treatment of gay people under the law.
Hello Fellow Little Rock Clergy:
Things have been moving “fast and furious” since the General Assembly (mercifully) adjourned a week ago. And with regards to the subject of equality and non-discrimination, a city civil rights ordinance—- that finally includes protection for sexual orientation and gender identity—will be presented at the Little Rock City Board Meeting agenda meeting this Tuesday. This ordinance will cover city employees as well as those companies that wish to do business with the city. (The text of this ordinance should be available on the City of Little Rock website).
We know about the substitute Bill and Act (S.975) that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law on April 2—an Act that purportedly aligned the Arkansas RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) with the Federal version of same. We also know that this Act fails to address equal protections against discrimination to our LGBT citizens. As a matter of fact, while this Act mentions “religion” and “religious protection” at least 15 times, it mentions “protected classes” not at all!!
Professor of Law John DiPippa at the University of Arkansas School of Law noted early last week that, so far as he could tell, in Arkansas “religious liberty is not under attack and does not need restoration.” What IS OBVIOULY still under attack is the right of the LGBT community to enjoy the same rights and privileges as the community at large.
For this and a number of other reasons, we are asking YOU and other members of Little Rock’s Faith Community to contact those members of the City Board who are proposing this ordinance. By contacting these directors—and especially if you know them personally—we can hope to accomplish a number of very important things:
(1) We can show—both publically and legally—that Little Rock is a welcoming community.
(2) We can emphasize that diversity is good for business in Little Rock—especially as has been demonstrated by the outpouring of business support in Arizona and Indiana, as well as what we saw demonstrated here in Arkansas at the beginning of the month.
(3) We can emphasize— as Faith Leaders in our community—that this is simply the right, just and moral thing to do. (If you are honest with yourself in terms of what our Biblical tradition commands us regarding our neighbors and loving the stranger), then we can do no less.
Also, please let me know if you are willing to sign on to an overall general letter of support for the city non-discrinination ordinance and if you might be willing to speak briefly at the City Council Meeting on Tuesday, April 21—which begins it’s meeting at 6:00 pm
Below is the link to the names of the City Board Members. Please be in touch with them on Monday and encourage them to both place on the agenda—and PASS—a strong non-discrimination ordinance.Anyone with special connections to Directors Wright, Hendrix, and Adcock—please reach out to them!!.
Best and Shalom, Gene
Rabbi Eugene Levy