Duggar effect: Conservative reality stars help sink civil rights

Michelle Duggar and Jim Bob Duggar of The Learning Channel TV show "19 Kids and Counting" speak at the Values Voter Summit on Sept. 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)
Michelle Duggar and Jim Bob Duggar of The Learning Channel TV show "19 Kids and Counting" speak at the Values Voter Summit on Sept. 17, 2010 in Washington, DC.

The Duggars, the religiously conservative reality show stars behind the TLC phenomenon "19 Kids and Counting," scored a victory against the cause of LGBT rights on Tuesday, when their lobbying efforts helped overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

According to local station KNWA, residents of the community voted by a 52-to-48% margin to end a policy which banned "unfair discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status."

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The vote came after Arkansas native Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the clan and the mother of 19 children, made a series of robocalls on the initiative's behalf. Among other things, the ordinance allowed trans men and women to use the bathrooms of their adopted gender, which Michelle Duggar chose to describe as “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”

“I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space,” she added.

The Fayetteville Flyer reports that the Duggars also donated $10,000 to some of the most outspoken opponents of the civil rights ordinance. Msnbc reached out to TLC's communications department for comment but did not hear back at the time of this report.

"Last night, LGBT equality took a step backward in Arkansas following a Fayetteville vote to repeal a citywide non-discrimination ordinance that included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity,' the Human Rights Campaign said in response to the Fayetteville vote. The gay rights organization went on to condemn the Duggars for their role in a "repulsive" campaign to repeal the ordinance. They called on their supporters to "help to spread the word about how the Duggars are exploiting their fame to attack trans people."

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The Duggars' political activism has sparked a wave of protest in the form of a petition last month, which drew thousands of signatures, calling on TLC to cancel the highly rated show for the anti-gay positions of its lead couple, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The creators of the petition wrote that the Duggars “have been using their fame to promote discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering against gays and transgendered people.” The show, which was originally titled "17 Kids & Counting", has run for nine seasons.

The couple’s oldest child, Josh, currently serves as the executive director of the action arm for the Family Research Center, which, according to its website, aims to educate the public about “traditional American values.” 

This latest flap is not the first time the Duggars have run afoul of gay rights advocates. Last month, they were widely ridiculed and criticized for posting a picture of themselves kissing on Facebook with the message: "God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime." They proceeded to urge other "happily married couples" to post their own smooch pictures on their page. When gay couples started to participate they reportedly saw their photos rapidly deleted.

"Oh no, I've been banned from the Duggar Family Official Facebook page!" wrote John Becker on Facebook, a gay married man who claims to have had his couple picture removed, according to People magazine. "It was getting lots of likes, but the Duggars must not have liked it very much ... how sad that they feel so threatened by other loving marriages." 

Additional reporting by Michele Richinick