the suzi parker files

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Elton John in Us Weekly: Too Hot for an Arkansas Grocery

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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.”

Eureka Springs 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.


Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 3:21 am

Bill Clinton: Economic Literacy a Must for America

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. – It’s the economy, stupid. Still.

That’s according to Bill Clinton, who returned to his old stomping grounds Wednesday to address the topic about which he has been called an expert.

Springdale is an appropriate place to talk economics. The region is the home of two of the world’s largest companies – Tyson Foods, Inc. and Walmart.

Both companies sponsored the fundraising luncheon for the private non-profit, non-partisan Economics Arkansas, which promotes training for K-12 teachers to integrate economic and personal finance concepts into the classroom. Twenty-one states have such classes in school. This fall, all ninth grade students in Arkansas will be required to take an economics course.

Clinton, in a black suit and pale green tie, received a standing ovation when he entered the room over an hour late.

“The mess we got into in this country is that people didn’t have enough economic literacy,” Clinton told the 1,000 people gathered in the Holiday Inn Convention Center. “Economics became of less concern to people.”

In his view, the recent financial meltdown and recession can be tracked to that lack of concern. In the last decade, Americans maxed out credit cards and took advantage of the subprime mortgage situation. “We pay a terrible price when people don’t understand economics.”

Clinton did not say he supported another stimulus package, but strongly cautioned Washington about passing another one, considering the size of the national debt. Government bonds are bought by China and other countries instead of individuals and American companies as was the case during the Great Depression.

“Since we are on the dole, we can’t enforce our own trade agreements,” Clinton said.
He stressed that Washington needs to focus on corporate treasuries and banks. Corporations need to invest more and banks need to loan more money to small businesses and individuals to stimulate the economy.

“We need to figure out whatever is needed to get that done,” he said. “What would make bankers feel good? Until that happens we aren’t going back” to a balanced and thriving economy.

Earlier in the day, he popped into a coffee shop and ran into the daughter of a deceased friend. He spoke to a meeting of a local economic council and visited the construction site of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a mammoth project funded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

Later, he was to visit the house where he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton married in 1975. The street in front of the 1930s English-style house was renamed last week from California Boulevard to Clinton Drive.

Indeed, throughout his luncheon speech, Clinton seemed wistful and homesick for Arkansas. He talked about old political allies and singled them out in the crowd.

“I think about you more than you might imagine,” he said.

Written by suziparker1313

March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm