The Agenda

Ten Questions for Kathy Webb

Last week a committee of the Arkanasas State Senate advanced Senate Bill 202, a bill that would deny cities the right to pass their own LGBT non-discrimination ordinances. Victory spoke with Little Rock City Director Kathy Webb, who previously served in the state legislature, about the bill and what it means for LGBT Arkansans.

Where were you when you heard that SB 202 cleared the Senate committee?
I had been at the Capitol but had left before the vote, knowing what the outcome would be.

How did you react when you heard?
The outcome was a foregone conclusion, so while it’s always disheartening, it was expected. And I’m always ready to take the next step in the fight.

What do you feel is the most damaging consequence of SB 202?
Members of the LGBT community can continue to be fired, evicted, etc with no protections. And municipalities are prohibited from passing ordinances to protect people.  There will be unintended consequences for others not currently protected by the state’s civil rights code.

How will SB 202 impact Little Rock, where you serve as City Director?
Little Rock will be prohibited from passing any ordinance to extend protections to the LGBT community. Unfortunately, we will continue to see LGBT citizens fired and evicted just because of who they are, regardless of job performance or ability to pay for housing. It will be harmful to economic growth, because companies like to see diverse, welcoming communities.

As an LGBT Arkansan, this issue is obviously personal to you. Do you think LGBT officials have an obligation to speak out about legislation like this?
I do think LGBT elected officials have a responsibility for speaking out. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot them in Arkansas! It makes a difference.

Tell us about your efforts to make Arkansas a more welcoming place for the LGBT community.
I tried to be a role model for our community while serving in the state legislature. While it’s always best to ask others if one were successful at that, I was chosen to be the first woman in state history to co-chair Joint Budget, and I was names the most effective member of the House in 2012. Based on what my colleagues said to me and about me on day one and towards the end of the 6 years, I believe I was a pretty good representative of our community. I was also able to work with my colleagues to kill two anti-LGBT bills while in the House and to pass an anti-bullying bill that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

What do you make of the rise of bills like SB 202 in state legislatures across the country?
The proliferation of these types of bills is due in part to the election of so many far-right Christian evangelical candidates. In Arkansas, candidates ran against President Obama for offices from the U.S. Senate to local offices.

Have you spoken to any of your colleagues about SB 202, and if so, what have you heard from them?
I spoke to many former colleagues last week, and will continue to. With some, it makes a huge difference and can change their votes (even encouraging them to “walk”). Unfortunately, with others, it doesn’t matter. I can only hope that by knowing me and other members of our community, and by sharing my own stories, it will make a difference in the years to come.

What can (or should) the public do in response to SB 202 and bills like it?
The public should be outraged, for lots of reasons – it’s just plain hate legislation, it’s counter to local control that is so popular, it’s bad for business, and it prevents municipalities from extending protections to other groups as well. Allies have to stand up and speak out.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about SB 202?
There’s a lot of irony that I could oversee a multi billion dollar budget, introduce and vote on bills, but can’t be protected from being fired simply because I’m a lesbian! I expect there to be court challenges to SB 202 and a waste of taxpayer dollars fighting the challenge.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.