FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Six members of the Walton Arts Center board of directors are resigning. This is in response to the center’s decision to no longer host drag performances where minors are present.
The six members are Mervin Jebaraj, Secretary/Treasurer and DEIB Committee member Casey Hamaker, former Board Chair, Vice Chair and DEIB Committee Co-Chair Anne O’Leary-Kelly, DEIB Committee member Jody Dilday, DEIB Committee member Cal Rose and DEIB Committee Co-Chair Lia Uribe. The members’ resignation was confirmed by Jebraj.
Jebaraj sent his resignation statement to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and to KNWA/FOX24 which can be read in full below:
As an appointed representative of the City of Fayetteville and an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, I cannot in good conscience remain affiliated with an institution which refuses to acknowledge the harm it has caused to members of our community.
Without consulting the board, the CEO of the Walton Arts Center made a political decision to no longer permit age-appropriate drag performances. This decision by the CEO was not only misguided and insensitive, but also deeply hurtful and disrespectful to the LGBTQ community. The decision sent a clear message that the voices, lived experiences, and identities of LGBTQ individuals are not valued. The CEO failed to seek advice from either the board or staff DEI committees and undermined the organization’s commitment to its mission of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. The board was unable to fully acknowledge, apologize for, or attempt to make amends for the organization’s role in this situation.
I believe that under the current CEO, the organization can not uphold all our stated values and mission, or meaningfully engage the board in decision-making, so I offer my resignation effective immediately.Mervin Jebaraj
On May 18, the Walton Arts Center released a statement responding to the controversy where it said its decision to not host the events centered around the heightened and divisive political conversations around drag and minors.
A rally to protest the decision is planned for May 20 by Arkansans for Social Justice.