On Saturday, a group called Pope County for Equality organized a rally in Russellville to show support for marriage equality and LGBTQ civil rights in Arkansas. More than 300 people showed up — quite a significant turnout for a community of under 30,000. Klay Rutherford, an organizer of the event and an undergrad at Arkansas Tech University, sent this report to the Arkansas Times. All pictures are courtesy of Pope County for Equality’s Facebook page.
Residents of Pope County gathered in Russellville at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 for a march and rally for marriage equality. Over 300 attendees marched through downtown and congregated at a stage near the historic Missouri-Pacific train depot.
The event was sponsored by Pope County for Equality, an online organization that advocates for the equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Speakers included Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Arkansas Tech University; Jeannie Fowler Stone, a proud Christian and an accepting mother of a transgender son; and, James Bittle, a retired sergeant in the U.S. Army who is gay and recently married. Hammonds, Stone and Bittle are all residents of Russellville.
Event organizers said, “Our goal is to be an overwhelming presence of love and acceptance. We aim to lift people up, start discussions, and show our community that we are more than a stereotype. We simply want to bring our community closer together in a setting of love and peace.”
An impromptu marriage proposal took place on stage as Russellville resident Morgan Walker got down on one knee, surprising the crowd and her new fiancé, Silvia Harper (also of Russellville). The band Sad Magick provided entertainment.
The rally was held in part as a response to an event the previous weekend (Saturday, April 25) organized by an Arkansas River Valley Tea Party group in support of defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Protests that weekend were organized by pro-equality individuals not affiliated with Pope County for Equality. While many media outlets downplayed the presence and role of the protesters at the April 25 event, we estimate that there were at least 250 pro-equality protesters and no more than 50 participants among the the anti-equality crowd.
Pope County for Equality would like to thank the Russellville Police Department for their unbiased approach in handling both marches. Despite the surprising turnout at both events, they occurred without incident or injury.
Two weeks ago, if someone asked me how a marriage equality rally in Russellville, Arkansas would go, I would be hesitant to predict a successful event. The people of Russellville showed up and surprised us all. Not all small towns come with small minds.