Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.49.53 AM

Arkansas’ anti-anti-discrimination law is just the latest crest in anti-LGBTQ wave

Last week, SB202 became law in Arkansas, officially banning the enactment of local anti-discrimination laws. After the measure passed both chambers of the state legislature, Governor Hutchison allowed the bill to become law without his signature. 

SB202 is just another marker of the larger backlash facing LGBTQ people, which affects the most marginalized within our communities. Across the country, legislation has been introduced at the state level that attacks the rights of LGBTQ people through the banning of anti-discrimination laws and/or invoking the moniker of religious freedom to grant exemptions for discrimination. These bills have been discussed and/or introduced in the following states: Indiana, Arkansas, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia.

This list of states is probably not surprising at all, and that’s part of the problem. For states dominated by rural countryside and/or are located in the South, resources are scarce. Much of the narrative around being LGBTQ focuses on “coming out” and then “getting out” — with the assumption that we will leave the country to go to an urban area, preferably New York, LA, San Francisco, or Chicago. This pools the resources of LGBTQ people in those cities, and creates a false narrative that urban areas are the only place where it is acceptable to be queer. This notion further alienates rural and southern communities who do not benefit from the queer-friendly atmosphere in places like New York and Chicago, leaving them vulnerable to laws such as Arkansas’ SB202.

These legislative occurrences cannot be separated from the rash of violence committed against the transgender community, particularly trans women of color. At least seven trans women have been murdered since the beginning of 2015, and at least two additional young trans people have taken their own lives. In Minnesota, trans students were exposed to hurtful rhetoric regarding a policy that would create more inclusive locker rooms. The city of Charlotte experienced something similar when a transphobic amendment was attached to a proposed city ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

In the face of such evidence, it is clear that LGBTQ people and our rights are still very much under attack. And so I am left with a question: where is the energy?

We used to have a ton of energy — at least around marriage equality. I remember being a college student in 2012 volunteering for the historic campaign in Minnesota. Election night ranks as one of my favorite moments in my life. We won in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, and Tammy Baldwin won the Senate seat in Wisconsin. When marriage followed in Minnesota in the spring of 2013, my whole campus buzzed. By the time the Hawaii ruling came down, however, the silence had already begun to set in. The same thing happened with Utah, Oklahoma, and every ruling after June 2013 when the Defense of Marriage Act was gutted.

I do not like the characterization of civil rights struggles as wars, battles, or fights, as that supposes and/or creates violence around that conversation. Instead, I’m thinking of this situation more in the form of a basketball game. As a movement, we are acting like this is the fourth quarter and if we just dribble out the clock, victory will be ours. But we’re only in the second quarter; the ticking clock is to halftime, not the end of the game. Heading into the locker room at the half with the lead is a great feeling, but we cannot be complacent.

The struggle for LGBTQ rights is becoming more violent, emotionally and physically. To ignore that reality is to be put to sleep by the lullaby of progress we have crafted for ourselves. We have to wake up, and not be spectators. Ending this violence and achieving full equality is not solely the responsibility of the major organizations. We, the people, are the movement. I want to feel the same energy I felt three years ago, when we fought tooth and nail for every inch. Removing a few nails doesn’t dismantle the system, especially when the opposition is working to hammer them back in. We can no longer ignore what is facing us. We have a long road ahead, and we will need all of us to complete the journey.

Header image: Blue Nation Review


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

Read more about Katie

Join the Conversation