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Little Rock, Ark., approves LGBT anti-discrimination protections

Little Rock, Ark.
Little Rock, Ark.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Little Rock officials voted Tuesday to prohibit the city and companies contracting with it from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, challenging a new Arkansas law criticized as anti-gay.

The ordinance approved by the city’s board on a 7-2 vote bans discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in hiring and city services, including those offered through outside vendors.

Little Rock is among several Arkansas cities trying to expand anti-discrimination protections after the state faced a backlash over religious objections measures that critics said were discriminatory. Supporters say the move is needed to counter the impression left by the state adopting those laws.

“I think we’re sending a message that we’re a welcoming community, that we’re diverse, that we realize that’s good for business, that we value all of our citizens,” said City Director Kathy Webb, the sponsor of the proposal. “I think that’s very important to make that kind of statement for Little Rock.”

Arkansas lawmakers earlier this month approved a bill that was revamped in response to criticism from some of the state’s largest employers – including mega-retailer Wal-Mart – that an initial version endorsed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

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Earlier this year, Arkansas also became the second state after Tennessee to bar local governments from expanding anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The law prohibits local ordinances from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not recognized by the state, and Arkansas is among 29 states that don’t include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws. The new state law doesn’t apply to a city and county’s policies applying to its employees, which Little Rock’s ordinance would cover. The Little Rock proposal goes a step further with the restriction on anyone who contracts with the city.

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