Voters in Fayetteville, Ark., repealed a nondiscrimination ordinance Tuesday, less than four months after the City Council overwhelmingly approved the law that protected LGBT and other residents from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
The Fayetteville Civil Rights Ordinance prohibited local businesses and entities from discriminating "against employes and customers based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other factors," according to Fayetteville TV station KFSM. Among more than 14,000 ballots cast, 52 percent voted to repeal the ordinance, while 48 percent voted in favor of the existing ordinance.
"We wanted to repeal the ordinance because we didn’t believe it made Fayetteville a fairer city or a freer city," local minister Duncan Campbell told KFSM. "It did just the opposite. It was called the Civil Rights Ordinance, but it was misnamed. It was an ordinance that actually took away civil rights and freedom from people. It criminalized civil behavior."
Other repeal supporters proudly proclaimed that the election made Fayetteville the first city in the nation to repeal a nondiscrimination ordinance, thanking religious groups — including the Southern Baptist Convention — for their help drumming up opposition. LGBT blog The New Civil Rights Movement reports that in the days leading up the election, public debate grew heated, and some residents opposing repeal saw their yard signs vandalized with antigay slurs.
While LGBT advocates were disappointed with the election's result, some organizers said the discussion around the ordinance provided an important starting place for conversations that could one day change hearts and minds in favor supporting LGBT residents.
"I’m also very excited that the process worked," Keep Fayetteville Fair campaign manager Anne-Garland Berry told the local news network. "I think [the loss] means that we have a lot of work to do. We haven’t had the conversations we needed to have. We haven’t persuaded the people we needed to persuade. So my goal for our team and those of us here and in other parts of Arkansas and in other parts of the south and in this country is [that] we should have more conversation."
The Duggar Effect
The nondiscrimination ordinance itself, passed by the City Council in 6-2 vote in August, was largely similar to others passed in cities around the country, though the battle over Fayetteville's Civil Rights Ordinance garnered national attention when the Duggar family, stars of the popular TLC reality series 19 Kids and Counting, began campaigning against the legislation.
Despite not living in Fayetteville (the majority of the family lives in neighboring Tontitown), the matriarch of the ever-expanding family, Michelle Duggar, recorded a "robocall" that went out to thousands of Fayetteville residents, chock-full of antitrans scare tactics. Calling the ordinance "shocking," Duggar's voice told local residents, "The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance … that would allow men — yes, I said men — to use women's and girls' restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas, and other areas that are designated for females only."
Her message went on to equate transgender women with men who are convicted child molesters — a provably false connection often trotted out by those opposed to equal access for transgender people.
"I don't believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls," Duggar's message claimed, despite the fact that the proposed ordinance established no such "legal right" for men — especially convicted criminals — to enter spaces designated for women.
The entire Duggar family are devout Independent Baptists, and their adherence to the "Christian Patriarchy" movement is a central feature of the popular reality show. Family members frequently weigh in on political matters, having campaigned for Rick Santorum, headlined the right-wing Values Voters Summit, and even called for a boycott of the Girl Scouts after news broke that a Colorado troop allowed a 7-year-old transgender girl to join.
Josh Duggar, the oldest of the titular offspring, joined the staff of certified anti-LGBT hate group the Family Research Council's legislative arm, FRC Action, last summer. After results from the Fayetteville special election arrived, Duggar tweeted a message that is, presumably, free of any intentional irony, though LGBT residents of Fayetteville might disagree:
Thanks to all who helped w/ the #Repeal119 campaign in Fayetteville, AR - supporting equality for ALL Fayetteville citizens!
— Josh Duggar (@joshduggar) December 10, 2014
In a related note, a Change.org petition asking TLC to "end LGBTQ fear-mongering by the Duggars" and cancel the family's popular reality show currently has more than 177,000 signatures at press time.