The Fayetteville City Council passed a broad anti-discrimination ordinance and created a new civil rights administrator to investigate reported abuses Wednesday.
The wide-reaching measure, sponsored by Alderman Mathew Petty protects basis of race, ethnicity, age, gender, familial status, socio-economic background, religion, sexual orientation and disability, to ensure access to employment, housing and public accommodations for city residents. The rule excludes tax-exempt churches and similar organizations.
A 10-hour meeting ran into the early morning Wednesday. Hundreds of residents crowded into city hall to weigh in. Supporters of the municipal civil rights measure wore red. Many described experiences with discrimination. Ordinance opponents, dressed in purple, expressed concerns it would infringe on the rights of Christians and enable sex offenders.
Dale Hopkins, of Springdale, said his son had been molested by a transgendered woman. He said the ordinance might encourage assaults from pedophiles.
“Are you, the city council members of Fayetteville, willing to put that on your head if that happens to another person, not necessarily by a transgendered person but by a person who is a pedophile? Are you willing to say, it’s OK?”
Fayetteville resident, David Garcia, said the opposition itself was indication the city needs the ordinance. “Simply because of the overwhelmingly negative reaction it brought, it shows the need for an anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville.
They’ve proved that we need it,” said Garcia. Council members said they have been deluged with email and phone calls about the issue in recent weeks. Mayor Lionel Jordan said he had received 400 calls.
Jerry Cox of the Christian Family Council sponsored a telephone message recorded by reality television show star Michelle Duggar. The call was sent a recorded phone call to city residents in days leading up to the vote.
“The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men, yes, I said men, to use women’s and girl’s restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only,” said the recording.
“I don’t believe the city of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female, to have a right to enter private areas reserved for females and girls,” she continued.
A recent study by the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, found 38 percent of LGBT Arkansans reported workplace discrimination. 43 percent said they had been publicly harrassed. One third of high school students reported bullying at school.
The HRC recently launched a multi-million dollar civil rights initiative in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. Fayetteville is the first city in Arkansas to enact such an ordinance. Opponents have said they hope to challenge the measure at the ballot box this November.