The hits keep coming from state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway). KARK reports
on a Facebook post from the senator condemning an event
at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
library that features a reading of children's books by drag queen Chloe Jacobs
, who was named this year's Miss Gay Arkansas. Chloe is the stage name of Evan Jacobs, a Little Rock resident.
In Rapert's post, which appears to have since been removed from his Facebook page
, he "[apologized] to the citizens of Arkansas for the ridiculous waste of taxpayer funds by UAFS for promoting this rubbish," according to KARK, and said "UAFS will certainly be given an opportunity to explain themselves before our legislative committee soon." (Note that Rapert's legislative district is nowhere near Fort Smith.)
The KARK interview includes a good interview with Jacobs, who explained the purpose of the reading event is simple end-of-semester fun. "I don't understand where all of this is coming from," he said of Rapert's comments. (Update:
As an aside, Chloe Jacobs appeared in August on the Arkansas Times'
arts and culture podcast, No Small Talk, hosted by our own Stephanie Smittle and Omaya Jones. Give it a listen.
One problem with the senator's complaints, aside from their obvious bigotry: UAFS doesn't sponsor this event or spend money on it, according to the university. It's hosted by a student organization.
Since then, Rapert has written a new Facebook post that reads in part, "I am told that UAFS has not sponsored nor endorsed this event and they are requesting all references to them be removed. After hearing from many Arkansas taxpayers that they object to their taxpayer dollars being used to support an event like this-this is all very good news. I appreciate the University of Arkansas system for clarifying that they do not endorse or support the kind of event on their campus."
I'm guessing that's why the senator took down his previous post. Rapert, who spends far more time and energy playing on social media than any healthy human should, has a habit of removing his own posts or tweets that might cast him in what he sees as an unflattering light — in this case, jumping the gun by assuming the university was devoting money to the event. He's certainly not backing down on the substance of his complaints. "I have read reports that indicate these events are specifically held to groom young children to embrace LGBTQ lifestyles," his newer post reads.
This would all be ignorable if it weren't for Rapert's threat to haul UAFS before a legislative committee. Legislators control funding for the UA system, which gives teeth to the senator's bigotry.
We've been here before: In 2017, a group of Republican state lawmakers tried to cut funding to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville
because of a sex ed event sponsored by a student group, which apparently included sex toys displayed on a table. The legislators objected to a Tech-related logo appearing on a flyer advertising the event. The controversy was eventually defused and the school's funding remained intact, but the message was sent. That's why UAFS officials evidently felt the need to respond to the threats of a state senator from a district that's hours away from Fort Smith.
KARK also reached Senator-elect Bob Ballinger
, a conservative state representative from Northwest Arkansas. Ballinger who may have views similar to Rapert's but is considerably less unhinged in shouting about them in public. Asked about Drag Queen Story Time, Ballinger dutifully said ugly things about the event but made clear he understood the distinction between something sponsored by the university and something sponsored by a student group. "I think it really is an effort to desensitize people from the norms of what would be traditional values and ideas that is
fundamental to making our country great. ... [but] that should be their right to have it as long as state resources and state approval is not going to it."
Rapert has been in the news lately because of hateful comments about Islam
— he expressed alarm about Muslims participating in American democracy — that caused his Twitter account to be suspended. Perhaps feeling emboldened by his re-election, he seem
to be out to stir up more controversy. Maybe he can get himself suspended from Facebook, too.
I asked UAFS by email this morning whether it had indeed requested that references to the university be removed from promotions for the Drag Queen Story Time event. John Post, a UAFS spokesman, responded by email:
UAFS requested the UAFS name and logo be removed from the flyer because the proper procedures set in place by policies of the Board of Trustees and UAFS for the use of the university’s name and logos were not followed. UA Board Policy 100.7 provides: “The name of the University and its campuses or units is protected by federal and state law and this policy. It is important to the University that the use of the name ‘University of Arkansas’ and all other University trademarks be limited to activities which are in fact authorized activities of the University or one of the constituent campuses or units.” As well, UAFS policy 8.1.2 provides: “When the name of the University is used in connection with seminars, conferences, workshops, and other activities, the University must in fact be a sponsor. Any sponsorship activities must be approved in advance by the appropriate vice chancellor.”
Post wrote that the event was "coordinated by a registered student organization on our campus, and no taxpayer or university dollars were used to bring the speaker to the story time event.”