I wrote a column for this week’s paper before polls closed anticipating the defeat of Fayetteville’s civil rights ordinance, so I can’t say I wasn’t prepared. Perhaps it was the early vote — strongly in favor of retaining the ordinance that was controversial for its protection of gay people — that made the final defeat more difficult.
In the end, the vote for repeal was 7,523 to 7,040. That works out to 51.66% for and 48.34% against. This was much better than the smashing defeat in Fayetteville some years ago of a much narrower measure that merely established a non-discrimination policy for city employees (which the city now has). Still, disappointing. EVEN Fayetteville, that shining progressive city on the hill, wants to preserve legal discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations against LGBT people.
But I got this note today from an old friend in Fayetteville, a supporter of the Keep Fayetteville Fair campaign. She takes the long view and I got a little lift from her:
Although you could say this about both sides of the battle, this was an organizing experience that may benefit us later on. The backlash against change is pretty obvious in Arkansas right now, and discouraging; but positive changes are happening (nationwide) and will happen. What I saw was a really fearful minority (overall) spending tons of money to try to hold back the trends. They will fail.
We were at an event last night that we signed up for before the election date was even set. At the break, everybody was checking phones to find out whether the votes had been counted. There was a sadness when we all knew the outcome, but there we were, being fed intermission food by a gay restaurateur who is married to a banker. They and all the others are not going away, and they will protect one another and be protected by the rest of us until the law is changed.
I remember when Ben Kimpel and Duncan Eaves and other prominent UA faculty members pretended to shop for houses so that when their black colleagues asked to look at the house listings they could not be turned away. Black professionals at Walmart and Black and Decker and IBM now choose to live in Fayetteville and commute to Bentonville (though Bentonville is also opening up).
The next city election cycle will tell the tale here. I think we’ll be targeted for some time. Paul Phaneuf, who lost in our Ward 1 runoff, canvassed our street for repeal of the ordinance; I think he was scouting for his next race And Lioneld Jordan, the mayor, will have well-funded opposition — if not from Justin Tennant, Steve Clark’s son-in-law, then from someone like him. But Lioneld got 62% against the popular former mayor last time and will likely prevail again.
George Wallace stood in a school door and proclaimed segregation forever. You know how that turned out.
Keep Fayetteville Fair said: “The repeal of this ordinance tells our visitors that we do not treat everyone
with respect and only allocate freedoms to certain groups of people.” They said they will keep fighting.