UCA held a screening of the now-nearly-decade-old documentary "Pink Houses" on Monday as part of LGBT History Month.
The subjects of the documentary, John Schenck and Robert Loyd, live in the pink-colored house at the corner of Robinson and Center streets — as most in Conway know. They had been in a committed and monogamous same-sex relationship for 30 years when the documentary was released in 2005. In January, it’ll be 40 years. Loyd and Schenck were at the screening to answer student questions and talk about what’s in the documentary and what’s happened since.
The two became politically and socially active in the mid-90s in light of the Defense of Marriage Act’s (DOMA) enactment and belittling remarks about same-sex rights by then-Governor Mike Huckabee.
In the documentary, Loyd and Schenck recount the local opposition to their efforts to "teach tolerance," as a banner over their porch has read for years. They organized the first Gay Pride parade in Conway in 2003, which then as now starts at their house.
Wesley Bono, then 35, staged a counter-protest that year involving dumping more than a ton of manure on Loyd and Schenck’s yard before dawn the day of the parade. Bono’s counter-protest was unconstitutional and misdemeanor harassment, Faulkner County District Court Judge Jack Roberts found, and he was fined and given a suspended sentence.
The documentary includes a lengthy statement by Bono to a number of TV reporters outside the district courtroom after his sentence was read. In this video, Bono apologizes to everyone inconvenienced by his manure except for Loyd and Schenck and whoever else was associated with the parade.
Another counter-protest in 2004 involved former Little Rock talk radio personality Phillip Beard’s career-ending stunt of tossing pornography DVDs to people at the parade. Again, the counter-protest was unconstitutional, and this time arguably felonious. Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson was unpersuaded by the defense attorneys’ attempt to draw a distinction between a DVD video recording and "film" for the purpose of the state’s statute prohibiting distribution of pornography to minors. Beard and co-counter-protester Christina Brown, also of Little Rock, accepted a negotiated misdemeanor plea the day of their trial.
In 2003, both Loyd and Schenck were arrested by a CPD officer and a FCSO officer for what they describe as no good reason other than asking someone to move a car blocking their driveway and held for six and three hours, respectively, on disorderly conduct charges that were later dropped. Their civil suit for wrongful arrest died when they couldn’t find a lawyer who would take it through to trial, they said on Monday.
Their house has been shot several times (the last bullet hole was repaired with a Band-Aid), they have received any number of death threats, drawn the ire of the Westboro Baptist Church, and have been told to "go to Hell" by elderly churchgoing women, they said. At one point the couple had accumulated enough harassment and credible threats that an FBI agent was assigned to watch over them, they added.
None of this dissuaded them. Loyd said that 80 percent of teen suicides involve some internal or external struggle with sexual identity. A young man or woman can be, and sometimes are, rejected by their family over their sexuality, he said on Monday, and often they kill themselves. The two believe that the overall local awareness they’ve raised and the number of "safe houses" and church and community programs for these young people they’ve advocated for and worked to establish have saved lives.
In the years since the documentary the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned DOMA and, for a short time between Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling that the state’s statute essentially mirroring DOMA’s "man and woman" marriage definition was similarly unconstitutional and a stay being issued until the question can be decided on appeal, a few hundred same-sex marriage certificates were issued in a handful of Arkansas counties, not including Faulkner.
Loyd and Schenck didn’t get one, but they celebrated at the Pulaski County Courthouse with those that did. They said they would wait to get theirs from the county clerk of their home county.