The ‘why’ behind our supermajority’s obsession with hurting Arkansans
You may have noticed an uptick this session in bills targeting LGBTQ+ folks. It’s worth talking about why this is happening, because it’s not unique to Arkansas.
The ACLU is currently tracking a whopping 429 bills across the nation that have some kind of negative effect on LGBTQ+ rights. Eight are from Arkansas, and they range from the disgusting attack on free speech and expression in HB1615 (the Arkansas supermajority only cares about freedom of speech for their stakeholders, remember) to Rep. Bentley’s darkly hilarious attempts to regulate bathroom usage for trans kids in HB1156.
We can’t give Arleg any points for creativity. Similar bills are hitting the legislative floors in Texas, Florida, Wyoming, Georgia, and too many others.
Alongside these legislative attacks, the anti-LGBTQ+ crowd’s use of targeted rhetoric toward our queer neighbors has worsened the last few years. Despite national legal wins for LGBTQ+ folks over the past decade, today’s anti-LGBTQ+ efforts give the impression we’re backsliding as a country.
The two-bit extremist Christopher Rufo is largely responsible for driving the escalation to increasingly severe anti-LGBTQ+ language. If that name sounds familiar, he’s also responsible for the right’s focus on the “dangers” of critical race theory. A quick reminder about CRT: though it is not taught in any secondary or elementary setting, extremists perpetuate misinformation that it is.
Rufo is running the same playbook on anti-LGBTQ+ rights as CRT, which shows this new generation of right-wing activists are a one-trick pony — demonize and punch down on the marginalized because politicians are either uninterested or unequipped to offer helpful policy.
The method is an easy way to stoke fear and discomfort and to drive their base to the polls.
Why the hostility matters
Why should Arkansans care about the broad, nationwide attack on LGBTQ+ rights? Here are at least two reasons to pay attention to the legislative bullying.
First, it demonstrates how little our supermajority cares to address what worries Arkansans. Last November, the University of Arkansas released its annual poll that showed the economy was the most important concern among voters by a solid 20 percentage points. This kind of culture war garbage we’re seeing now? It didn’t even crack the top five for Arkansas voters.
Additionally, the number of Arkansans who were most worried about the economy increased nearly 20 points from last year’s poll. The state is hurting badly and our legislature is wasting time, energy, and money fighting a culture war instead of delivering effective economic aid to Arkansans, despite a 2022 budget windfall.
Lawmakers could be trying to make our lives tangibly better; yet they have settled for making life worse for a certain groups. These legislative policies unfairly target Arkansans already experiencing marginalization — folks who deserve respect and privacy, which are two values conservatives allegedly uphold, like right to be free from government interference. The themes of unprincipled motivation and ideological hypocrisy are again on full display in our legislature.
Second, the coordinated strike on LGBTQ+ Arkansans is a precursor to attacks on libraries, school boards, and other educational institutions and policies. And we’ve seen such a policy progression here in Arkansas. What started in 2021 as a ban on trans girls in sports has become a full-fledged takedown of any perceived “woke” norm, system, industry, or public service.
Fear is a powerful weapon, and it’s easy for those in power to deliberately target groups of people that are already on the metaphorical ground. Arleg’s punch-down intent is clear: bully their way to total control. The more harm lawmakers bring to specific groups, the more likely fear will keep us from standing up for policies and programs that help — not hurt — Arkansans.