Businesses take pledge to have LGBT-friendly employment


Arkansas has captured national headlines for Senate Bill 202, which many claim heavily affects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in regards to employment throughout the state.


Businesses in Arkansas are taking a pledge to promote equality in the workplace for the LGBT community. Arkansas' Human Rights Campaign launched their "Equality Is Our Business" program, which is an effort by businesses across the state to promote inclusion of the LGBT community workplace.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 37% of members of Arkansas' LGBT community have experienced harassment at work.

Much of the conversation has centered around having clear protection for LGBT people.

Jack Sundell is the co-owner of the Root Cafe in downtown Little Rock. He said business in Little Rock is booming, especially the hospitality industry.

"We are becoming a prominent national tourist destination. People are traveling from all over the country because Little Rock is an exciting place to visit," Sundell said. "It does us absolutely no good to have a national negative stereotype to overcome, such as Arkansas is not an LGBT-friendly destination."

Andria Zekis is a transgender woman. She now serves as the Executive Director for ATEC, Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition. Zekis said more inclusion of the LGBT community is the smartest move businesses can make.

"I stayed in Arkansas because I was able to have a job that supported me and that respected me and that valued me as an employee," Zekis said. "You know money is money! Why would you want to deny someone the right to spend money at your place of business? Why would you deny someone the right to make you more money if you're an employer?"

Zekis said equal employment stands for more than a job, calling it a civil rights issue.

"For people who are transgender, a lot of us take a lot of risks and we are going through our process of transitioning at any point we can lose a job. We can lose a home. We can lose members of our family who love and respect us. So to be able to have a job allows us to stay in this location," Zekis said. "I have a friend who was told by an employer when she disclosed that she was transgendered that 'sorry, you are no longer able to work here now.' That's currently going through a lawsuit."

Sundell said the state's stance of equal employment has a ways to go.

"As an urban area we are much more progressive than the rest of the other parts of the state - rural parts of the state," Sundell said. "The fact is the Arkansas Legislature will do what it wants to do and that's their business. But as a business owner - a business owner can choose what they want to do in their own business. That means they can choose to do the right thing - to be an inclusive business, to be a welcoming business."

For more information on the Equality Is Our Business program and for a full list of businesses that have taken the pledge, click here.

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