Columns » Max Brantley

Civil rights history book

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We went to press before votes were counted in Fayetteville's referendum Tuesday on its civil rights ordinance.

I expect its defeat. (Update: I was right.) If so, it will be a banner victory for the hate groups that worked to defeat it. Even Fayetteville supports legal discrimination against gay people, they'll say.

Perhaps the supporters tried to do too much — to be too specific in protections. Even some supportive of equity seemed to think so.

It won't go down easy for me. I've heard a tape of the out-of-town preachers who rallied in Fayetteville, talking in demeaning terms about gay people.

I've heard Steve Clark, the Chamber of Commerce leader and advance scout for a son-in-law's future mayoral bid, shovel bogus legal arguments. I prefer not to take legal advice from someone forced out of public office for stealing tax money in a massive expense account scandal.

I've heard Dean Danny Pugh at the University of Arkansas offer a lame pretext to scrap a shuttle bus planned by a student government association to take voters to the polls. No, it wasn't a partisan shuttle bus. But the legislators who raised hell with the university lobbyist about the activity (which I discovered through a public documents request that the university attempted to discourage) are no friends of equality.

Clark and others said it would be bad for business to adopt an ordinance discouraging discrimination. Yet most of the Fortune 500, including Walmart, have nondiscrimination policies of their own.

Would a creative information-based company like Apple (with its gay CEO) rather locate in a city with an anti-discrimination ordinance or one that voted to restore legal discrimination?

If the ordinance is repealed, the status quo will return. It will be no worse — and maybe even slightly better — in Fayetteville than in other cities. But this doesn't mean an absence of discrimination. It happens in large and small ways every day in Arkansas. Just last week at Quitman High School, a homecoming maid's intention to mention she was proud of coming out to her parents led to a silencing of all maids at the event. A teacher told KARK-TV, Ch. 4, this was done for "safety reasons."

It is hard to believe hearts are kind in a place where a declaration of sexual orientation is deemed unsafe.

All this is headed to the history books. Some of those who screamed loudest against equality might have cause, like George Wallace, for regret someday.

The historical imperative was in evidence just this week, when stories about the Baseball Hall of Fame vote on former star Dick Allen (he fell one vote short) all recounted the ugly greeting he received 51 years ago as the first black player to break the color line for the Arkansas Travelers. Racists picketed the Little Rock ballpark. Orval Faubus, at the height of his segregationist popularity, threw out the first pitch. Allen was segregated at meals and lodging. Some think it contributed to the aloof man he became. No wonder.

I am pessimist enough not to expect too much too soon on human rights for LGBT people, and not only because of the angry resistance in somewhat progressive Fayetteville. See race.

Racial strife is far from over. The city of Little Rock blindly defends cops who killed a man minding his own business in his apartment when they blundered inside. The Arkansas attorney general is fighting payments to a black man wrongly incarcerated for 11 years on the word of a dirty cop. By most important measures, blacks still receive disparate treatment in the legal system.

The past isn't past for black people. And they have nominal equal legal status that gay people can't yet claim.

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