As part of a campaign to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in three southern states, an Arkansas director has been named for the Human Rights Campaign.
Kendra Johnson was introduced during a press conference at the capitol Monday and said LGBT people are particularly vulnerable in Arkansas.
"There are no non-discrimination protections in employment, housing or public accomodations. What does that mean? It means I can be kicked out of a restaurant for simply being a lesbian, or that a gay friend of mine can be fired just for being gay, or that a transgender woman can be kicked out of her apartment for simply being who she is," Johnson said. "That’s not right, and as Arkansans, we can do better than that."
State Rep. Warwick Sabin, a Democrat from Little Rock, says there are some supporters of expanding hate crime laws in the Arkansas Legislature, but that passage is a long shot, given the current balance of power.
"We have an uphill battle currently because just in the last regular session, we had to stave off some resolutions and other efforts to marginalize the LGBT community more than they already are, so we’re going to do everything we can and certainly we need more vocal support. I think the organization of the HRC campaign and the opening of the office and the hiring of the state director will help us make progress toward that end," Sabin said.
The Arkansas office is being funded through an $8.5 million campaign to promote LGBT equality in Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi.
Johnson's hiring coincides with court fights that are underway at the federal and state level over Arkansas's ban on gay marriage.
The group also released results of a survey Monday, said to be the largest of LGBT Arkansans ever conducted, finding many report experiencing discrimination in employment, harassment in public establishments and at houses of worship.