Voters repeal Fayetteville, Arkansas, transgender ordinance

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Christian Examiner) -- Fayetteville, Arkansas, voters by special election on Tuesday, Dec. 9, repealed a civil rights ordinance passed by their city council in August. The law, which included protections for homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals, was overturned by a vote of 52 percent for the repeal and 48 percent against.

The law claimed to offer protections against employment and housing discrimination, but it also contained provisions that allowed transsexuals, individuals with a confused gender identity, the right to use any public facility -- restroom, shower, or changing facility -- regardless of their biological gender and actual anatomy.

The city council initially passed the ordinance by a vote of 6-2 on Aug. 20. An opposition group, Repeal 119, formed and collected the necessary signatures to keep the law from going into effect and to set a public vote giving residents the final say.

According to Northwest Arkansas News, 29 percent of Fayetteville's registered voters participated -- a record number for a special election: 7,523 voters supported repeal and 7,040 voters asked to keep the new law in place. 

In a Dec. 8 blog post, Ronnie Floyd, Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, called the special election "a big day for Fayetteville, Arkansas, but also for America" because Fayetteville "is America's current religious liberty battleground."

Crediting the Human Rights Campaign with using local city councils to advance their agenda, Floyd claimed that repealing the law in Fayetteville was an opportunity to "make a national impact by becoming the first city to reject this offensive SOGI (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) law.

"Our stance against this ordinance is not a stance against people," Floyd said.

Duncan Campbell, a local resident, co-founder of Joy Ministries and president of Repeal 119, told Fayetteville's 5News the group sought to repeal the ordinance because they "didn't believe it made Fayetteville a fairer city or a freer city."

"It was called the Civil Rights Ordinance, but it was misnamed. It was an ordinance that actually took away civil rights and freedom from people. It criminalized civil behavior" Campbell said noting that the bill had been drafted by an outside group that did not share the city's values.

Repeal 119 attracted a broad range of individuals interested in overturning the legislation, including business owners and church members. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce also supported the law's repeal as did the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial board.

Prior to the special election, Repeal 119 hosted a news conference to educate voters on how the ordinance could infringe on religious liberties. They said churches and religious organizations faced prohibitions against hiring only staff members who shared the same foundational beliefs of faith, and, that ministers who declined to participate in same-sex ceremonies would face fines up to $8,500 and potential jail time.

Among the panel of speakers at the Repeal 119 news conference were Dave Welch, Director of the Houston [Texas] Area Pastor Council and Charles Flowers, pastor of Faith Outreach Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Welch is one of five pastors in Houston, Texas, who gathered petitions to send a similar city ordinance to a vote but instead suffered intimidation by the city's mayor. The issue will be decided in court in January when a judge will rule on whether 50,000 signatures on petitions asking for a vote on the Houston law are valid.

Flowers, a black pastor, said the black community should oppose the bill, and was offended that homosexuals, lesbians and the gender confused (HLGC) "sought to piggy back on the civil rights movement."

In August he announced a civil rights movement "divorce from the HLGC agenda" because HLGC people did not share the same history of danger and the present experiences of discrimination suffered by African-Americans.

"While we love the people involved, we cannot allow their agenda to stain the fabric, the tapestry, of the Civil Rights Movement," his speech read.

The Repeal 119 website also featured a local artist's rap song, "Gay is not the new black," that said "the gay agenda isn't an extension of black history."

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar also were part of the repeal effort and were attacked by LGBTQ activists.

Fayetteville resident Jim Wissick, created a petition to end the family's show "19 Kids and Counting" after he found the Duggars had donated $10,000 to the Repeal 119 initiative.

In his petition targeting the Duggars, Wissick claimed the family was using their fame "to promote discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering against gays and transgendered people," because matriarch Michelle Duggar publicly campaigned against the bill and even lent her voice for an automated telephone message lobbying for voters to repeal the ordinance.

His petition has collected 180,000 endorsers, but a rival petition by Duggar supporters has surpassed 209,000 signers.

The special election is the second city-wide vote in which Fayetteville Reporters successfully shot down an ordinance of this nature. According to the Fayetteville Flyer, voters repealed a 1998 law prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals when hiring or firing city employees.

Those in favor of the new ordinance claimed it was necessary to prohibit business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone based on sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status, or veteran status.