by Max Brantley
Academy Award-winning actress and Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen voiced her opposition to H.B. 1228 in an email to HRC Arkansas supporters this week. If passed into law, the “Conscience Protection Act” would allow individuals to sue government actors—including teachers, firefighters and police officers—if that individual believed that their personal religious beliefs were being violated. Steenburgen joins other notable names speaking out against the discriminatory legislation—including Wal-Mart, Apple, Inc. and former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Below is Steenburgen’s email to supporters:
“Much like yourself, my roots run deep here in Arkansas — it’s where I was born, where I grew up, and where I chose to open my own business.
As a native Arkansan, it pains me to see politicians in the Arkansas Capitol try and chip away at the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across the state. In fact as you read this email, a bill that would allow for discrimination against LGBT people awaits a decision in the Arkansas Senate.
The bill could give businesses the right to discriminate against people when it comes to employment and access to public places we all use on a regular basis such as doctor’s offices and retail shops. As an Arkansan, I am opposed to legislation that discriminates against my friends, family and loved ones who happen to be LGBT.
HRC Arkansas has been fighting this destructive bill since it was introduced earlier this year, but we cannot stop until it is defeated once and for all.”
Last week, the issue suffered a key setback in the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee. Though the bill failed to get a recommendation from the committee, members could try to revive the bill at a later date. HRC Arkansas is working aggressively to prevent the bill from advancing to the full Senate.
“We won’t stop advocating against this bill until legislators understand its harmful impact upon all Arkansans—including those who are LGBT,” said HRC Arkansas state director Kendra R. Johnson. “The ‘Conscience Protection Act’ is discrimination at its root and Arkansas deserves better.”
According to a 2014 HRC survey, LGBT Arkansans are productive, contributing members of their respective communities. Almost 60 percent of respondents have lived in the Natural State for more than 20 years; more than 50 percent have volunteered in their communities; and 9 percent of LGBT Arkansans are currently serving, or have served, in the Armed Forces. However, LGBT people in Arkansas face challenging hurdles. In the Natural State, 37 percent have experienced harassment at work; half have experienced harassment on the street; and 38 percent of LGBT households earning less than $45,000 have experienced harassment at work.
HRC Arkansas is working to advance equality for LGBT Arkansans who have no state or municipal level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations; legal state recognition for their relationships and families; state rights to jointly adopt children; and state protections from hate crimes. HRC Arkansas works to realize a future where everyone is treated fairly by changing hearts, minds and laws.