The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce on Saturday (Aug. 22) confirmed its support for Ordinance 5781, a controversial civil rights proposal similar to one city voters rejected in a Dec. 9, 2014 election. The chamber also challenged use of a 2014 letter from the chamber that supported repeal in the 2014 election.
A vote on Ordinance 5781 is set for Sept. 8. Early voting begins Sept. 1.
In late 2014 the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) worked with some elected officials in Fayetteville to draft an ordinance designed to provide civil rights protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Fayetteville City Council approved the ordinance, but a citizen petition put the issue up to a vote and it was repealed with 51.6% of the vote.
Springdale pastor Ronnie Floyd and the Jim Duggar family lobbied to repeal the ordinance. Ordinance opposition came primarily from churches but also included the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Their belief was that the ordinance offered special rights to LGBT persons in a manner that imposed upon the liberties and property rights of others. Chamber officials said the ordinance could force businesses to locate outside city limits.
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart supported retaining the ordinance.
Following the election defeat in December 2014, local groups worked with the Fayetteville chamber to address their concerns related to the business community. With that and other input, the city put Ordinance 5781 on the ballot. Link here for a copy of the ordinance.
Protect Fayetteville, the group seeking voter rejection of Ordinance 5781, is using on its website the Fayetteville chamber letter from the previous campaign. Use of that letter has drawn the chamber’s objection.
“It has come to our attention that a letter previously issued in 2014, noting the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the previous civil rights ordinance, known as Chapter 119, is being used by the Protect Fayetteville campaign. The letter, written on Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce letterhead, has been edited by Protect Fayetteville and is posted on the Protect Fayetteville website. It is unfairly misleading, using our logo and prior publication, to imply that the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce is opposed to Ordinance 5781,” the chamber said.
The note from the chamber also included this clear endorsement of Ordinance 5781: “The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce has endorsed and supports the passage of Ordinance 5781, the Fayetteville Civil Rights Ordinance. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce urges voters to go to the polls and vote ‘Yes’ on Election Day, September 8, 2015.”
Kyle Smith, chairman of the For Fayetteville campaign which is pushing for voter approval of the ordinance, sent out a statement Saturday thanking the chamber for confirming its position.
“We’re glad to have the support of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce in this effort to pass equal protections for everyone,” Smith said in the statement. “The Chamber knows #5781 will help grow our economy and attract new businesses who value their employees and customers. Since our campaign started, nearly 400 Fayetteville businesses have signed a pledge to support #5781, because they know it’s good for business.”
The group opposing the ordinance say it will create “danger zones” for women and children and can be used to close down businesses who violate the ordinance.
“This ordinance creates danger zones for women and children. Just as in Chapter 119, the law demands that businesses allow men (who claim to be women) to enter female bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and shelters. Don't legalize indecent exposure,” Protect Fayetteville notes on its website. “Business licenses can be revoked in a matter of days.”
The City Wire has attempted to contact a spokesperson for Protect Fayetteville. This story will be updated if and when they reply.