Civil rights supporters respond to chamber’s call for repeal of anti-discrimination law

Supporters of a contentious civil rights ordinance today responded to news that the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce had come out against the new law.

The Civil Rights Administrator ordinance, if upheld in a Dec. 9 special election, would prohibit business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status, or veteran status.

The chamber’s board of directors on Thursday announced they had adopted a resolution calling for the repeal of the ordinance, and that their hope is that voters will strike down the civil rights law at the polls next month. Board members said they felt the ordinance was written poorly and is too vague in its definition of what is prohibited.

Keep Fayetteville Fair, an advocacy group working to support the ordinance, issued a statement Friday morning announcing disappointment in the chamber’s decision to take an opposing stand on the divisive issue, and said the move was “out of step” with many of the most successful companies operating across the country today.

The group pointed out a recently released study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation which found that 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies have implemented policies which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 61 percent have protections in place on the basis of gender identity.

“Companies across the United States, a great number of which operate here in Arkansas, including Walmart, have embraced anti-discrimination protections and have encountered no problems,” said Anne Shelley, spokesperson for Keep Fayetteville Fair.

From the release:

Keep Fayetteville Fair believes a vote against the repeal will allow our city to uphold our values and faith, which teaches us we’re all God’s children and that everyone should be treated with respect. The supporters of Keep Fayetteville Fair believe all folks who work hard, pay their taxes, serve in our military, and contribute to our community deserve to be treated fairly under law, including our gay and transgender neighbors.

Supporters maintained that regardless of whether the new law needs to be fine-tuned, its intent is clear and must be upheld.

“It’s simple: fairness is good for business,” said Hannah Withers, founder of Block Street Business Association. “We need to keep Fayetteville competitive. That’s why businesses across the country from Walmart to Regions Bank have adopted similar policies. They recognize fairness is good for business.”

Chapter 119, Civil Rights Ordinance

Fayetteville City Council members passed a controversial anti-discrimination ordinance at around 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20 after nearly 10 hours of public discussion and debate inside City Hall.

The ordinance prohibits business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status or veteran status. It also creates a civil rights administrator position to receive and investigate complaints from residents who feel they are victims of those specific types of discrimination. Offenders could be fined up to $500 if it is determined they violated the ordinance.

The ordinance was approved 6-2 with council members Adella Gray, Sarah Marsh, Mark Kinion, Matthew Petty, Rhonda Adams and Alan Long voting in favor of the measure. Ward 3 aldermen Justin Tennant and Martin Schoppmeyer voted against the ordinance.

A group called Repeal 119 immediately began a petitioning campaign to stop the implementation of the ordinance, and eventually turned in enough signatures to put the new law on hold and force a Dec. 9 special election to decide the fate of the ordinance.

» Read all Flyer coverage of the civil rights ordinance