The families of four transidentified youths and two doctors, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, testified last month against the Arkansas law that prohibits sex reassignment treatment for minors. Behind the effort to overturn Arkansas’ Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act is the nation’s wealthiest family, heirs to the fortune of Walmart founder Sam Walton.
The Walton Family Foundation issued public statements and signed an amicus brief opposing the SAFE Act. Meanwhile, second- and third-generation members of the Walton family have funneled millions of dollars into LGBTQ initiatives across the state. Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, along with his nephew Tom Walton and his wife Olivia Walton, have been featured in the front lines of this cause.
LGBTQ Advancement Fund
The Alice L. Walton Foundation and Olivia and Tom Walton, through the Walton Family Foundation, launched a $1 million LGBTQ+ advancement fund after the Arkansas legislature passed the SAFE Act in June 2021. The fund The Waltons offered grants to organizations in Arkansas that “provide critical services to the state’s LGBTQ+ community.”
“Our state is at a reflective moment where each of us must send a message of acceptance to the LGBTQ community that says, ‘You belong here,’” Olivia and Tom Walton said in a statement from the Walton Foundation. “It is also a time for action as we recognize that LGBTQ Arkansans face growing challenges that need community-driven solutions.”
The Waltons selected the nonprofit Arkansas Community Foundation to oversee the fund.
“This fund will allow LGBTQ-serving nonprofits in our state to expand their impact in communities and help Arkansans come together to build a more welcoming and supportive environment for all of us,” said the president of Arkansas. the Arkansas Community Foundation, Heather Larkin.
The Waltons’ fund has offered grants ranging from $25,000 to $150,000 for LGBTQ programs in Arkansas. These include the Equality Crew, Northwest Arkansas Equality, Central Arkansas Pride, and Transition Closet.
The Equality Crew has announced LGBTQ-themed events with drag queen story hours and kids’ drag shows in Fayetteville, Arkansas. One of these events, a teen-only back-to-school night for “LGBTQ+ youth” at the Fayetteville Public Library, was canceled over what Equality Crew said were safety concerns.
The Walton Family Foundation and the Walmart Foundation are also major sponsors of the LGBTQ non-profit organization Northwest Arkansas Equality, which sponsors the largest gay pride celebration in Arkansas.
Opposition to the SAFE Act
In the months leading up to the Waltons’ initiative, the Arkansas state legislature voted to pass the SAFE Act in April 2021.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed the bill on April 6. That same day, Tom Walton issued a statement supporting Hutchinson’s veto.
“We are alarmed by the series of policies targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas,” wrote Walton, who directs the Walton Family Foundation’s Home Region Program. “This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those who wish to invest in or visit our state.”
He added: “We engage government, business and community leaders to consider the impact of existing and future policies that limit basic freedom and do not promote inclusion in our communities and economy.”
The state legislature overrode the governor’s veto the same day Tom Walton issued his statement.
In July, US District Judge Jay Moody temporarily blocked the SAFE Act from going into effect in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four families of trans-identified youth and two physicians.
The Walton Family Foundation signed an amicus brief with other businesses and non-profit organizations in support of Moody’s preliminary injunction. The Waltons signed a similar amicus brief appealing Moody’s decision in the US Eighth Circuit Court this January. Other amici include the Northwest Arkansas Council and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, both groups funded by Walton.
The amicus brief says:
Many amici employ and provide services to transgender people, and all amici oppose the Arkansas General Assembly’s passage of HB 1570 (“Health Care Ban”), which discriminates against transgender people, including by prohibit health care professionals from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth…the Health Care Ban, absent this Court’s intervention, will have an adverse impact on the amici’s (or of its members).
The amici argue that the SAFE Act will drive LGBTQ people and their families out of the state.
They further argue that they will face backlash from consumers and businesses over the SAFE Act, writing, “This will inflict substantial damage on amici, Arkansas businesses, and all Arkansans, because they all benefit from a strong economy.” ”.
Do you have an opinion on this article? To ring, send an email [email protected] and we will consider posting your edited comments in our regular “We hear you” feature. Remember to include the url or title of the article plus your name and city and/or state.