Resolution would reaffirm Fayetteville’s commitment to protecting transgender people

During the introduction of the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance, then-Council Member Adella Gray was joined by (from left) Chaz Allen, president of the NWA Center for Equality; Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce; Mark Martin, an attorney at the Martin Law Firm; Danielle Weatherby, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas; Lowell Grisham, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; Clint Schnekloth, lead pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church; and Ward 2 Council Member Matthew Petty.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

The Fayetteville City Council next week will consider a resolution reaffirming the city’s commitment to protecting transgender people.

The proposal was brought forward by City Attorney Kit Williams and sponsored by Mayor Lioneld Jordan in response to several bills recently passed by the Arkansas Legislature.

Williams said the bills “have appeared to limit rights of persons whose gender identity may not match the gender assigned to the person at birth.”

Reaffirming Fayetteville’s Welcoming of all Persons

A resolution to affirm the City of Fayetteville’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and protection of our transgender citizens, residents, and visitors.

» Read the full resolution and memo from Williams

“The bills have probably caused considerable concern to our transgender citizens, their families, neighbors, friends and supporters,” Williams told council members on Tuesday.

Those measures, he said, are in contrast to the history of Fayetteville in which citizens have voted against discrimination of transgender people.

In 2015, Fayetteville voters approved the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance in a special election. The new law was immediately challenged and upheld in circuit court, but then was appealed by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and eventually defeated.

“We can’t stop state laws,” said Williams. “But I thought it was important for my hometown and its leadership to state without any qualification that we believe in diversity and inclusion of all persons in our city.”

One recently passed measure prohibits physicians from providing gender-affirming treatment for trans people under age 18. It’s the first law of its kind in the United States. Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, but the state’s General Assembly voted to override the veto.

Another new bill bans transgender student athletes from joining female sports teams. Gov. Hutchinson signed that bill in support. Arkansas was only the second state to pass such a measure. Mississippi adopted a similar bill in February.

A third new law allows doctors to deny nonemergency treatment to anyone if they have a moral or religious objection.

The new measures have sparked significant opposition, including some from local leaders like Walmart heir Tom Walton, who serves as chair of the Walton Family Foundation’s Home Region Program Committee.

“We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas,” said Walton.

He said the trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit Arkansas.

“Our nation was built on inalienable rights and strengthened by individual differences,” Walton said. “Arkansas has been called the land of opportunity because it is a place where anyone can think big and achieve the extraordinary. Any policy that limits individual opportunity also limits our state’s potential.”

Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams / Fayetteville Government Channel

Molly Rawn, CEO of the city’s tourism bureau Experience Fayetteville, also denounced the legislation.

“In an already challenging year for tourism, this will only continue to negatively impact our industry, the state’s second largest economy,” said Molly Rawn, CEO of Experience Fayetteville.

She said the potential boycotts could cost the state and city hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue, and will further drive negative stereotypes of Arkansas as being regressive and repressive.

“More importantly, these laws will further marginalize the transgender community,” said Rawn.

Mayor Jordan said he’s happy to sponsor the resolution, and he’s hopeful the council will support it next week.

“We can’t change the laws that have been passed, but we can say how we feel and what we think,” said Jordan. “And I think it’s time for us to do that.”