Fayetteville: a Land of Opportunity?

As you may or may not know, this past week was Northwest Arkansas’s Pride Week. I had the opportunity to visit a few of the events, and let me tell you, it sure was inspiring.

This past Wednesday, I went to a fundraiser for Jay Barth. For those of you unfamiliar with Jay, he’s an openly gay professor at Hendrix College, and is running for a seat in the State Senate. The funny thing is, he’s running in Little Rock. So why did he come up here? Well, we probably ended up giving him a lot of money.

He gave a short speech at the fundraiser in which he talked about Arkansas’s shift from “The Land of Opportunity” to “The Natural State.” For those of you old enough to remember those license plates, “The Land of Opportunity” used to be our state motto. Jay briefly highlighted the ways in which this was not true: areas in which you would expect a land of opportunity to be the best in, we were 48th or 49th (leading me to invoke Arkansas’s only true state motto: “Thank God for Mississippi”), and areas you’d expect us to be 48th or 49th in, we were first or second. “The Natural State” just seemed to be more representative of our state.

But he also thought it was time for us to change. That we should take back the Land of Opportunity moniker by becoming a true land of opportunity.

Flash forward, then, to the Pride Picnic this past Saturday. For those who attended, there was quite the treat that day. Don Marr, our city’s openly-gay chief of staff, issued an official proclamation of behalf of the Mayor (I saw the certificate; the signature was real) declaring Saturday, June 27th, as LGBT Pride day for the city of Fayetteville. I whooped, I hollered, I cried a bit. I was elated.

After the proclamation, Anthony Clark, the President of the NWA Center for Equality, introduced me to one of the leaders of Oklahomans for Equality, as I had a small part in securing the proclamation. The man, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, told me how incredible it was that we were able to get an official proclamation from a sitting mayor in this part of the country. He said that they have been trying in Oklahoma for twelve years, that they have had no breakthrough in Tulsa, and that the Mayor of Oklahoma City refuses to even acknowledge their organization’s request.

That hit home for me in a way that the proclamation didn’t. I knew that we were a bit different here in Fayetteville. I didn’t realize just how lucky we were, though. And then I thought back to Jay Barth’s speech about the land of opportunity, and realized that, perhaps, Fayetteville is already one of them. So to every citizen of Fayetteville, and every person out there that contributes to the diversity and acceptance of our city, I want to say thank you. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to show us how lucky we are.

Disclaimer: Although I am a dues-paid member of the NWA Center for Equality, my opinion is my own and I am in no way speaking as a representative of the Center.

Jon Cox is a guest contributor to the Fayetteville Flyer. He is also the Promotions Director for KXUA 88.3 FM, the student-run radio station on the University of Arkansas campus. For more of Jon’s contributions to the Fayetteville Flyer, visit his author page.