Election: Fayetteville's LGBT Anti-Discrimination Measure An Arkansas Rarity

Dec 5, 2014

State Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville)
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Voters in Fayetteville next week will decide the fate of an anti-discrimination ordinance designed in large part to protect the city’s LGBT population. Fayetteville’s city council approved the measure – the first of its kind in Arkansas - in August and a petition process for its repeal began immediately after. Signature gathering was successful and the ordinance is up for a repeal vote December 9.

Democratic State Representative Greg Leding of Fayetteville says the city’s protections against discrimination in housing, employment, and public access is an example other Arkansas towns will follow.

“I think the eyes of Arkansas are absolutely on Fayetteville the last few weeks. You look at Fayetteville and it’s a proud history, mostly, of being at the leading edge of these kinds of movements. We were one of the first school districts in the South to voluntarily desegregate our schools. I think it’s only natural that Fayetteville continues to lead on this issue,” said Leding.

Jerry Cox, president of Arkansas Family Council, says Leding is wrong to think Arkansans will soon be embracing the idea that LGBT people need special protections.

“There has been no compelling case made to say that transgendered individuals, or even individuals who are homosexuals need that special class status that we afford to groups like race,” said Cox. “If anything this ordinance has created problems by the fact that it has stirred things up in such a way that wouldn’t have occurred I think if people would’ve just left well enough alone.”

Supporters of the ordinance did fill Fayetteville’s city hall for over 10 hours in August claiming numerous instances of discrimination. The U.S. Department of Justice also has a dedicated working group to combat discrimination experienced by LGBT people because data suggested a need for a specialized focus.

Cox, along with opponents of the measure speaking to the city council in August, is also concerned that protections for LGBT people will infringe upon those opposed to some people’s sexual identities and orientations.

“If this ordinance stands it will be used as a hammer against those individuals who have deeply held beliefs against things like same-sex marriage,” said Cox. “This is about a lot more than just fairness or equality, or civil rights, or any of these other things. It’s really about advancing a political and social agenda that is way out of step with the people of Arkansas and the people of Fayetteville.”

The anti-discrimination ordinance is the first of its kind adopted by an Arkansas city but over 200 cities nationwide have similar policies. Leding, in a leadership position in the Democratic caucus, is aware Fayetteville’s path is relatively isolated in Arkansas. But he says that doesn’t mean it’s not supported within Fayetteville.

“I do have, despite the overall political nature of the state, support in that House District 86 is still a fairly liberal district. So I feel like I’m only doing my job as the representative for that district,” said Leding.

Leding is one of only a handful of elected officials in Arkansas vocally supporting the ordinance or any measure related to expanding LGBT rights. It’s an issue the state Democratic Party has not embraced, but Leding’s not worried about his political future at the moment.

“Honestly at this point higher office is something I haven’t really considered. I think anybody that gets into office naturally at some point thinks about the next rung up the ladder but I’ve always tried to approach it as, if I’m worried about the next run on the ladder I might lose grip on the rung I’ve got right now,” said Leding. “People elected me and put me in the position I am in now and I need to serve them.”

Fayetteville voters will decide on the 9th whether to repeal the ordinance. Early voting is underway.