Honoring an Arkansas Pioneer in LGBT Equality
On Saturday, January 17, more than a hundred people gathered in Conway, Arkansas, to remember the life and legacy of Robert Loyd, an LGBT rights pioneer who died suddenly on December 30, 2015. Loyd and his husband of 41 years, John Schenck, started the longest running Gay Pride Parade in Arkansas and were tireless advocates for LGBT equality. His husband, three of the couples’ adopted children and many other community members, including Conway Mayor, Tab Townsell, and students for the Conway High School Gay Straight Alliance, memorialized him.
Bobby, as he was affectionately called, was one half of the duo featured in the documentary Pink Houses, a reference to their bright pink Victorian home circled by a rainbow fence and inscribed with the words “Teach Tolerance.”
During Schenck’s homage to his late husband, he remembered him as a Vietnam veteran, a dedicated son who returned to Arkansas to care for his widowed mother and as a father to several LGBT adolescents who had been rejected by their birth families. He recalled the first gay pride parade in 2004 when a dozen marchers were met by hundreds of protesters and a lone community member who spread manure along the route. Mayor Townsell called Loyd his “Personal Trainer for Social Justice Issues,” constantly pushing him toward tolerance. Perhaps the most touching statements came from the high school students who thanked the couple for making it possible for them to have a safe space at school to be themselves.
I remember Robert as a local leader who was quick to support all LGBT equality efforts. John and Robert joined HRC Arkansas’ efforts as soon as we opened our doors, signing onto HRC’s Equality is Our Business program and regularly attending our events. I also remember his signature “ruby slippers,” a gift from his husband, which he wore even with his old military uniform as he protested against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the state capitol. In paying my respects to Robert at the memorial, I thanked him and his husband for “creating possibility.” Without their tireless efforts, none of us might have known that it was even possible to one day build an Arkansas with full LGBT equality.