- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A national advocacy group on Tuesday touted 100 Arkansas businesses as supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as it fights legislation that critics say would justify discrimination.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights group, unveiled its “Equality is Our Business” program aimed at promoting anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The group said 106 primarily small businesses had signed on to the program’s pledge to embrace and support the LGBT community.

Kendra Johnson, the HRC’s Arkansas director, said the program can “help build a better Arkansas where we retain the state’s top talent and keep our door open wide for new business.”

The program was unveiled as the HRC and other groups are fighting a House-backed “conscience protection” bill that supporters say would prevent state and local government from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs. Opponents have said the bill, rejected by a Senate panel last week, would sanction discriminating against gays and lesbians.

It also comes a week after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed another measure to go into law that will prevent local governments from expanding anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Johnson said the group had been working on the program before the legislative session, and said businesses in the program could participate in webinars and networking events held by HRC.

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