Fort Smith gay community reflects on low human rights campaign rankings

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Jordan Ruud, center left, president of the River Valley Equality Center, watches participants gather at the Rally for Equality in Fort Smith on June 20, 2021.

Patrick Boze lives without any expectation of protection against discrimination.

“To put it simply, it’s scary. It’s scary to be gay,” Boze said.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights organization, released its 2021 States Equality Index, which ranks states based on their laws and policies regarding LGBTQ people. Arkansas received the lowest “high priority to achieve basic equality” ranking.

Boze said he thought the assessment was fair. Boze is the executive director of Jessi’s House and Sweet House. Jessi’s House is a transition house for young LGBTQ adults opening in March, and Sweet House is a community center that supports LGBTQ teens.

The Human Rights Campaign’s filing means Arkansas is not taking steps to ensure LGBTQ people are treated equally before the law, said Sarah Warbelow, the organization’s legal director. She said Arkansas has actually taken steps to make life harder for LGBTQ people.

“It’s great that they’re judging these things and creating some awareness of the environments in which LGBTQ people live across the country,” Boze said of the human rights campaign.

Warbelow said Arkansas needs laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in areas such as employment and housing.

Warbelow also mentioned laws passed in the last legislative session that she considered harmful to the transgender community. One such law prohibits transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care. The other prohibits transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams.

Much of the fight for equality in the LGBTQ community in recent years has focused on trans rights, said Jordan Ruud, president of the River Valley Equality Center.

“A lot of trans people are just afraid to be themselves here,” Ruud said.

Ruud said laws that threaten people don’t help the issue.

Boze was motivated to action after returning from New York to Arkansas and seeing the difference in the way LGBTQ people are treated.

“It’s night and day that LGBTQ people are treated and disrespected,” Boze said.

But he also said he saw progress at the grassroots level. Fort Smith officials supported both Sweet House and Jessi’s House.

Alex Gladden graduated from the University of Arkansas. She previously worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining The Times Record. She can be contacted at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on the Fort Smith Times Record: City’s gay community reflects on low human rights campaign rankings

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