by Gillian Richards
Second- and third-generation heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton’s fortune have funneled millions of dollars into LGBTQ-related causes in their home state of Arkansas.
Among other things, these Walton-funded groups and the Walmart Foundation have sponsored local drag shows and story hours for kids; “teens only” events for LGBTQ-identifying youth; and other progressive causes such as diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in public schools and the state university in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Sam Walton’s daughter Alice Walton and grandson Tom Walton, along with Tom’s wife Olivia, have been at the forefront of these initiatives. Last year, the Walton Family Foundation launched the Arkansas LGBTQ+ Advancement Fund in conjunction with the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
The Walton Family Foundation and the Walmart Foundation are leading sponsors of Northwest Arkansas (NWA) Equality, an LGBTQ nonprofit based in Fayetteville. The group’s stated mission is “to provide programs, education, and advocacy to serve, connect, and empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.”
The Walmart Foundation first offered NWA Equality a “capacity building” grant in 2007 and has continued supporting the group in subsequent years.
In 2018, the Walmart and Walton foundations donated around $2.5 million to fund a three-year training program in diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, called TRUE Northwest Arkansas. NWA Equality was one of the first groups to receive a TRUE Northwest grant, which the Waltons offered in collaboration with the Transgender Equality Network.
Walmart and the Waltons continued offering grants and capital gifts to NWA Equality as late as 2020.
NWA Equality sponsors LGBTQ-related events in Arkansas’ Benton and Washington counties as part of the group’s stated efforts to “make drag accessible” to new audiences and to place drag shows “at the forefront of Northwest Arkansas’ social calendar.”
NWA Equality’s Dickson Divas drag events, for instance, feature drag queen brunches and children’s story times to Arkansas residents. In Fayetteville, the group sponsors Northwest Arkansas Pride, the state’s largest LGBTQ pride celebration.
The Equality Crew, a beneficiary of the Waltons’ 2021 LGBTQ+ Advancement Fund, hosted a children’s event during NWA Equality’s pride parade in June.
The Equality Crew hosted an event called “Youth Zone” at the Walton Arts Center, named after the Walton family for its donations.
One segment, titled “Kids Zone,” featured a “drag story time for younger children,” as stated in the advertisement. A “Teen Zone” was offered for students in grades six through 12, including “a DJ, local band, and TWO drag shows.”
A “Sensory Zone,” clearly targeting children on the autism spectrum, was also available for “youth needing a break from the sights and sounds.”
Gender confusion is particularly common among young people on the autism spectrum who have difficulty grasping social roles, making them particularly vulnerable to the suggestion that they should change their gender.
The Equality Crew also scheduled a back-to-school night for “LGBTQ+ youth” at the Fayetteville Public Library over the summer. The event, advertised as “teens only,” sparked enough outrage that The Equality Crew canceled it, citing safety concerns.
The Equality Crew wrote in its original announcement of the event that “community partners in support of LGBQ+ youth” would be stationed throughout the library. Youth could get free haircuts from local stylists and clothing from the Transition Closet, another Walton-funded nonprofit that donates clothes and accessories to Arkansas residents who say they’re seeking gender transition.
A dance party had been scheduled at night, which certain adults would chaperone despite the event’s being advertised as “teens only.”
The Fayetteville library’s executive director, David Johnson, told a local Arkansas news station shortly after the event’s cancellation that the library started receiving complaints after posting information about the event online. Most concerns were centered on the dance party and an associated drag show, Johnson said.
The Equality Crew wrote in an Aug. 4 statement that the event was canceled “largely due … to the increasing number of violent and disruptive attacks on parents, children, and organizers seeking to serve members of the LGBTQ+ community or provide inclusive programming, particularly in public library spaces around the world.”
The statement added:
We are disappointed, sad, and upset that this vital event could not safely take place. We will continue to move forward with regular monthly programming including events for LGBTQ+ youth in a safe and inclusive manner with increased attention to security and de-escalation needs. …
We encourage you to reach out to The Transition Closet for any back-to-school clothing needs. We have also developed a Back to School Guide for LGBTQ+ Students and Families that is accessible on our website … , along with our Affirming Teacher and School Staff Database.
The Walton Family Foundation, the Walmart Foundation, Northwest Arkansas Equality, The Equality Crew, the Transgender Equality Network, the Transition Closet, and the Fayetteville Public Library didn’t respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment by publication time.
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Gillian Richards is a research associate for the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Photo “Alice and Jim Walton” by Walmart. CC BY 2.0.