Arkansas has a way of making it onto the national stage -- and sometimes the publicity isn't very complimentary.
The latest from Bill Clinton's home state: Harps grocery store in the small town of Mountain Home in northern Arkansas deemed a magazine story on gay singer Elton John to be obscene.
The store placed gray "family shields
" over copies of the Us Weekly magazine, which features the singer,
his partner, and their new adopted baby. Printed on the shields were the words: "To protect our young shoppers."
But the shields didn't stay up for long -- not after members of the Arkansas' GLBT community started calling the Harps
corporate offices in Springdale.
The company, which runs 65 Harps stories in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, released a statement on its website Wednesday afternoon. It said in part:
"Our true intention is not to offend anyone and this incident happened at just one of of our 65 locations, which when brought to our attention, we reversed," Kim B. Eskew, Harps president and COO.
The statement explained that it is the company leaves it up to the local manager's discretion to use the shields when customers complain about offensive material. The Mountain Home store said it covered the Elton John magazine
after receiving such complaints.
The censorship ignited GLBT activists.
"It's Us magazine, not Hustler," said Randi Romo of the Center for Artistic Revolution
, a non-profit dedicated to fairness and equality for all Arkansans. "Families come in all kinds of configurations and yes, sometimes that means they consist of same-sex couples raising their children. Many same-sex families live right here in Arkansas. The last census showed that there are same-sex couple households living in every single county in Arkansas."
My beloved home state of Arkansas is unparalleled at perpetuating its own stereotypes of Bible-thumping, backwardness, bigotry, racism, and intolerance.
Last week, the town of Marshall made national news when its mayor flew a Confederate flag
over city hall for four days, including on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The mayor said it was in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's birthday. Arkansas is one of a handful of Southern states that celebrates Lee's birthday on the same day as King's.
This week, the city council, which did not approve of the mayor's actions, voted that only the state and U.S. flag can be flown on city property.
Last year, in response to gay suicides around the country, Midland School Board Vice President Clint McCance
came under national scrutiny for a series of vicious and inflammatory anti-gay rants on Facebook. He resigned after an online campaign to oust him and a GLBT group from Little Rock protested the small school.
Even governors can take a step or two from progress. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee once bragged on "Morning Joe"
about eating fried squirrel. "When I was in college, we used to take a popcorn popper, because that was the only thing they would let us use in the dorm, and we would fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room." (For the record, few Arkansans have ever done this, according to my own informal survey.)
In 2009, atheists battled the secretary of state's office for the right to display a winter solstice exhibit on the capitol grounds near a large nativity scene. They eventually gained the right, but some atheists now worry that the right may be taken away since a conservative GOP secretary of state won the election last year.
There is only one way to describe Arkansas: land of extremes.
The state is progressive in many areas, and feudal in many others. The state has a history of electing progressive federal representatives. Sens. J. William Fulbright, David Pryor and Dale Bumpers and long-time Congressman Wilbur Mills come to mind. Then there's Bill Clinton, who attempted to allow gays in the military and reform the health care system in his first year in office. Arkansas can also claim one of the most liberal surgeon generals to ever hit Washington – Dr. Joycelyn Elders
Arkansas is home to some of the world's biggest companies – Walmart and Tyson Foods -- and is becoming a regional hotspot for wind-energy manufacturing. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Center and his school for public service lures thousands of tourists and illustrious speakers from around the world.
But if the chance arises to spectacularly display our foibles on a national news stage, we jump at the chance, especially if it involves GLBT lifestyles or sex.
That's certainly ironic, as I discovered when I wrote my book, "Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt
." In the 1970s, Arkansas became the home of the first Miss Gay America pageant. The drag queen pageant only blossomed in popularity over the decades.
Little Rock is also home to two of the largest gay and lesbian nightclubs – Discovery and Backstreet. And yes, straight people do go.
"Strong and vibrant queer communities such as Eureka Springs and the surrounding lesbian-only communities have had a presence in the mountains surrounding Mountain Home [where the Harps grocery is located] for decades," says Brock Thompson, author of "The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South."
has the only Domestic Partnership Registry in Arkansas, which often comes under fire by legislators who want to halt the registry.
Just this month, researchers reported
that gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.
The push-pull of progression versus moral repression bubbles incessantly in Arkansas, which makes the love-hate relationship for many Arkansans all the stronger.