Texarkana residents protest anti-discrimination law | Arkansas Blog

Texarkana residents protest anti-discrimination law

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Director Tim Johnson: Ordinance sponsor wants Texarkana to be able to compete for new business and says law will give it a leg up.
  • Director Tim Johnson: Ordinance sponsor wants Texarkana to be able to compete for new business and says law will give it a leg up.

On January 19, Texarkana, Ark. joined the limited ranks of Arkansas cities that have passed ordinances providing some measure of equal protection for LGBT people. The modest measure, which was sponsored by City Director Tim Johnson, includes sexual orientation and gender identity among protected classes in city employment and personnel practices, and extends to those who contract with the city.

Now, Travis Story, the lawyer fighting Fayetteville's non-discrimination ordinance, is taking his bathroom fright show to Texarkana as well. Last week, he met with residents who oppose the non-discrimination ordinance, the Texarkana Gazette reported.

Yes, pass a law that says a city can't discriminate in its hiring and contracting on account of a person’s "race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation" and the next thing you know, someone with male genitalia is going to barge into the women's restroom and waggle it in your face.

The Texarkana Gazette also reported on a gathering last Tuesday of 35 people at a property owned by Texarkana residents Richard Wagnon and his wife, Sheila, to hear Story. The newspaper quoted Story's bathroom anxiety: " 'Any facility that is a public accommodation that does business with the city, it specifically means they are going to have to allow things like someone who claims the gender of a female, although is male in every other respect, they are going to have to allow them into their restrooms,' he said. 'We are going to have to allow them into (the ladies') restroom.' "

Wagnon, who with his wife owns nursing homes and develops real estate, is quoted in the newspaper article as saying the ordinance "will lead to potential discrimination towards me, as a Christian, and my religious beliefs." He warned the crowd that supporters of the ordinance "are going to tell you all kinds of lies. They are going to tell you things like 'you're a homophobic.' " Wagnon said.

When they say it's about Christianity and not homophobia, it's about homophobia. 

Those who oppose the ordinance are trying to force a referendum on the issue, which will require gathering at least 1,109 signatures of registered voters in the city limits of Texarkana, Ark., according to Story.

City Director Tim Johnson said the "sole intent" of the measure was to put the city in a better position to compete for new industry and business. With the opening of Interstate 49 and recently gained water rights to Lake Millwood, Texarkana is hoping to break out of stagnation, Johnson said, and he doesn't want the city ruled out of any competition for business because it did not have an anti-discrimination policy.

Johnson said he looked at other non-discrimination policies, including Miller County's, Domtar Paper Co.'s in Ashdown, and Christus St. Michael Health System's, before introducing the one the board passed unanimously. He noted that at AT&T, where he worked for 36 years until retirement, "they have a very inclusive policy. ... I am not sure where the root of this opposition comes from."


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