Photos: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
About 500 people gathered in downtown Fayetteville on Thursday evening to participate in the state’s first-ever trans march.
The event was organized by NWA Equality to increase awareness for the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming Arkansans. It was part of a series of events in June to celebrate LGBTQ voices and experiences, and to raise awareness about issues the community still faces.
Attendees on Thursday chanted and held signs and banners while marching along Dickson Street and Block Avenue toward the Town Center Plaza on the downtown square for a brief rally that featured several speakers, including Washington County Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford, who is the first openly transgender elected official in the state.
Rios Stafford said while the state is not always an easy place to fight against the marginalization and discrimination, it’s important to continue to speak out against hate and injustice.
Washington County Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford / Photo: Todd Gill
“It’s no secret, in Arkansas sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back,” she told the crowd. “I never expected when I ran for office that we would be dealing with such hateful and bigoted attacks on the trans community in our state Legislature, but we have been fighting against it every step of the way. They’ve been trying to turn back history and turn back the clock, but we’re never going to go back.”
Rios Stafford in May met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to try to convince him to veto HB 1570, which was the first bill passed in the United States that bans gender-affirming care for trans youth. A few days later, Hutchinson announced he’d decided to veto the bill, although the state Legislature would later override the veto.
Rios Stafford said she was encouraged by her meeting with the governor and she hopes more of the state’s legislators will have conversations with transgender people in the future.
“But this isn’t about them,” she said. “It’s about celebrating you all. You are loved, you are beautiful, you are valued, you belong here, God loves you, and you are a beautiful part of Arkansas.”