U.S. Senate candidate Conner Eldridge visited Little Rock's Club Sway on Aug. 25 as part of the Stonewall Democrats' "Donkeys & Drinks." The speaker series invites prominent political figures to a gay bar to speak about LGBTQ issues. No major candidate for a statewide race in Arkansas politics had given a speech inside an LGBTQ venue until Thursday, and by doing so Eldridge set a precedent for future candidates in Arkansas elections.
"Can y'all believe that some on the other side put out statements about the Orlando shooting and didn't refer to the hate crime aspect?" Eldridge vented. "I mean, that's why we're here tonight, right?" Right.
"It also comes back to my three kids and the world I want them to grow up in," he said. Eldridge also underscored the importance of his Christian faith and his joy to share the pews with LGBTQ families at his church every Sunday.
As U.S. attorney, Eldridge said, he prosecuted federal criminal cases across 34 counties in Western Arkansas and understands the lingering legal discrimination against the LGBTQ community. "One of the first cases that hit my desk as U.S. attorney," Eldridge said, "turned out to be the first Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Act case in the country," a law his opponent, Sen. John Boozman, voted against. "The basic anti-discrimination statutes that are litigated every day in federal court — you find race, gender, religion ... you don't find sexual orientation or gender identity. That's pretty astounding to me." Eldridge pledged to "... support and co-sponsor the legislation that fixes that from day one."
Eldridge said he recognized he doesn't fully understand all the issues of the LGBTQ community, but he wants to sit down and learn from those who do. His message: I'm listening. "[Discrimination] is not something we can accept or tolerate and, in fact, we have to fight against it," he said. "I am very proud that our campaign has been the most progressive campaign on LGBT issues in the history of the state of Arkansas." The remark was greeted with explosive applause.
"Donkeys & Drinks" continues on Sept. 22 with remarks from Susan Inman, Melissa Fults, Camille Bennett and Victoria Leigh.