Gov. Mike Beebe last week spoke to Stonewall Democrats, whose money he rejected in 2010 because the group represents gays and lesbians in Arkansas. He told them he opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions. He tacitly supported Arkansas law that allows discrimination against homosexuals in housing and employment. The only thing missing was his endorsement of the successful efforts to defeat hate crime legislation in Arkansas, a law that failed because it included homosexuals in its protection. He also lectured the group on its need to be tolerant of its oppressors.
I was going to write something about this shocking performance, but Ginna Wallace, a recent graduate of UALR, sent me a letter she'd written to the governor. I give her the floor.
You need to hear a story my father tells me about my grandmother, for whom I am named. It was a day in September 1957, and he was in the kitchen, watching my grandmother do the dishes. She looked out the window and saw a line of military vehicles passing in front of the house. She became enraged. She threw down her dishtowel and ran outside with her apron on to shake her fist angrily and yell at the passing vehicles.
The vehicles carried troops of the 101st Airborne, on their way to help the Little Rock Nine attend Central High School, where the Nine's very lives were in danger from people like my grandmother because they simply wanted equality.
I wonder if you think what my grandmother did was wrong. I wonder if you can imagine the shame I feel when I tell this story. My memories of my grandmother are good ones. She was always so kind. She was the perfect example of a Southern belle to me. She also went to her grave holding on to her racist beliefs.
It's easy to say, "But that's just how things/people were back then." But that is the wrong answer. Without the people who stood up to question that type of behavior, we would never have had positive change.
I tell you this story, Governor Beebe, as a warning. My shame will become your grandchildren's shame if you do not change your words and your actions. When you spoke in front of the Stonewall Democrats, you told them that you do not believe they deserve the same rights afforded their heterosexual neighbors. You told them that not only should they accept their second-class status, but that they also should refrain from being visible and active in demanding change.
You have a choice, governor, in the same way that Gov. George Wallace had a choice. He chose to change from the easy answer to the right answer. Sixteen years after his 1963 inaugural speech in which he spoke of segregation today, tomorrow and forever, he said: "I was wrong. Those days are over and they ought to be over."
Hear me when I say, Gov. Beebe, that if you do not open your eyes and realize you are wrong just as Gov. Wallace was wrong, just as my grandmother was wrong, that your grandchildren will remember you with shame in their hearts. I pray for you just as I pray for my grandmother.
Susan Virginia Wallace