According to the Fayetteville Flyer, which first published audio of the call, the ordinance in question is intended to strengthen protections for LGBT and transgender residents of the town, creating a new position on the city staff dedicated to handling discrimination complaints pertaining to housing, employment, and public accommodation.
The ordinance’s text states that it prohibits businesses there from discriminating the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status. As KFSM notes, the ordinance has been through several revisions in order to address opposition from the community.
Arkansas is one of several dozen states with laws that do not currently address discrimination against LGBT or transgender individuals. Several municipalities, including Iowa City and Columbia, MO, have enacted similar ordinances, according to the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. As of mid-May, 18 states include sexual orientation and gender identity in their housing and employment discrimination bans. Seventeen states cover both in their public accommodation bans.
Opponents of the law — headed by a coalition of conservative activists in the state — say the ordinance is at best unnecessary, and at worst, harmful to the state’s children, the argument underpinning the ad. Here it is:
And here’s the transcript of the call:
Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes I said men – to use womens and girls restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area? I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first. Women, young ladies and little girls deserve to use the restroom or any other facility in peace and safety. Will you speak up for protecting women and children? Call 575-8330 and tell the Fayetteville City Council members and Mayor Jordan to vote ‘no’ on ordinance 119. The number again is 575-8330. For more information please go to www.freefayetteville.org. Paid for by freefayetteville.org.
In an August 5th memo, assistant city attorney Blake Pennington dismissed that line of argument, writing that “using the bathroom is a basic human function, and denying that to a person is inhumane… The acts perpetrated by the criminals in those stories will continue to be criminal acts.”
The origins of the sponsoring group mentioned at the end of the robocall are a bit murky. The Free Fayetteville website redirects to the site of the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group based in Little Rock that has been involved in opposing the ordinance. But the Family Council’s President Jerry Cox denies that his organization paid for the calls.
Cox said that he and a number of other conservative activists discussed the robocalls with Jim Bob Duggar (Michelle’s husband) in a recent conference call dedicated to organizing against the ordinance, but that was the extent of his group’s involvement. “We’re not responsible for the robocalls,” Cox said in an interview, adding that they “are in agreement with [the Duggars]” against the ordinance. “I don’t think the ordinance is necessary” Cox said, adding that he’d never seen actually seen any instances of the sort of discrimination that the ordinance is intended to address.
The Family Council’s opposition material to the ordinance includes a similar claim to that in the robocall: “grown men could use the women’s restrooms at parks, public pools, sports stadiums, and similar locations where children are present,” the group writes.
Jim Bob Duggar did not immediately return a call for comment, or to clarify the family’s involvement in the funding of the ad.
The Duggar family is best known for their TLC reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, although the family’s activism on socially conservative causes has gained them attention recently. Jim Bob and Michelle will address the Values Voters Summit later this year. Previously, the family campaigned with Rick Santorum for his 2012 presidential bid. The Duggars’ oldest son, Josh, works for the conservative Family Research Council in DC.