Non-discrimination ordinance: Locals respond to decision to overturn Fayetteville ordinance
By Samantha Jones
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Jan. 31 to overturn Fayetteville’s non-discrimination ordinance, and Eureka Springs citizens are left wondering what that decision means for the city’s own ordinance extending civil rights protections to LGBT people.
Lamont Richie, who advocated for Ordinance 2223 four years ago, said the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a state law meant to pre-empt local civil rights ordinances would override Fayetteville’s non-discrimination ordinance. Richie remembered when that state law was passed, saying it was approved with an emergency clause. He immediately began working with the Eureka Springs City Council, Richie said, to get a non-discrimination ordinance on the books before the new state law took effect.
“I took Fayetteville’s ordinance and tweaked it, changed it to make it more workable from an administrative point in Eureka,” Richie said. “I retyped it and sent it to (then-alderman) James DeVito that Sunday. It was introduced Monday at council and was passed 5-0 with an emergency clause, so it went into effect the next day.”
Richie continued, “The idea then was if it was in effect before the state law went into effect, we’d have an argument that state law didn’t apply. But then the state law changed to ‘enact or enforce.’ “
Richie said Fayetteville has been fighting the state to keep its non-discrimination ordinance in place for years now. It’s not over yet, he said, because the Arkansas Supreme Court hasn’t decided if the non-discrimination ordinance is constitutional.
“When Fayetteville had its first non-discrimination ordinance taken to the ballot, it was a nasty, nasty, nasty fight,” Richie said. “It’s been a long time, and it’s still dragging on. If it goes to another trial, it could be two or three years before this is settled.”
Local artist Zeek Taylor remembered hosting fundraisers promoting Fayetteville’s non-discrimination ordinance and said he has many friends who are affected by the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision.
“I was worried their ordinance wouldn’t pass, and I did everything I could to help promote them,” Taylor said. “This seems really personal to me, because of my connection with Fayetteville. I was devastated when I got the news.”
Taylor continued, “I thought we had come so far in the state and in this country for human rights, for equality for all, and this is another setback. I was mad, I was sad and I still am –– almost to the point that I think, ‘Why do I live in this state?’ I’m so disappointed this has happened in my state.”
Taylor said he’s not giving up yet. He intends to stay in Arkansas to support equality, Taylor said.
“I’m here to fight. If I leave and everyone left, then we’ve lost the fight,” Taylor said, “so I will continue to fight for equality.”
Mayor Butch Berry said he hasn’t heard anything from the state about Ordinance 2223.
“I have no idea. I mean, I haven’t gotten any good answers from our attorney,” Berry said. “I’ve talked to the ACLU about it. We’re just not sure what to think.”
Many of the problems with the Fayetteville ordinance, Berry said, are not a problem in Eureka Springs.
“The main issue is the constitutionality,” Berry said. “That was never decided.”
Berry said he’s concerned with the state legislature overriding decisions made by cities.
“The way the legislature is acting, they’re taking away home rule from the cities,” Berry said. “They don’t really seem to care or put a lot of importance on what the local people vote on and say.”
The only way that will change, Berry said, is if Arkansans start voting differently.
“Until the people get up and change how they vote,” Berry said, “I don’t know if anything is going to change, which is kind of scary. What the legislators are doing with home rule is atrocious. When you have that kind of action by the legislators, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”
Berry said he feels lucky Eureka Springs doesn’t have to worry about discrimination as much as other cities in Arkansas, and Taylor agreed.
“I’m so glad I live in Eureka Springs,” Taylor said. “Our ordinance was more of a statement that yes, we accept all people in Eureka Springs, and I think that’s going to hold true, ordinance or not.”
Richie said prejudice is alive and well in Carroll County, recalling when former Sheriff Randy Mayfield was caught using a homophobic slur to describe him last year. Richie was serving his fourth and final term on the Carroll County Quorum Court when the incident happened.
“It shows mindset. It shows attitude,” Richie said. “Whether it’s done privately or publicly, those kinds of attitudes exist. Homophobia, racism and sexism exist, and that needs to be rooted out and exposed.”
Richie continued, “Unless people have the guts to stand up and speak out, this kind of stuff is going to continue. I think that’s a problem people ignore. If it doesn’t affect them directly, they’re just not going to worry about it. But it does affect us as a community. It reflects on us as a community.”