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Tom Walton supports Arkansas governor's veto of trans legislation

Published April 7, 2021
UPDATED: CEO of Arkansas-based Allied Cycle says he's disappointed in recent legislation.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BRAIN) — Tom Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune, part-owner of several bike industry companies and a promoter of cycling in Arkansas, said Tuesday he supports Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson's recent veto of legislation that would ban gender confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youth. The state legislature later overturned the veto.

Other Arkansas cycling industry members have been mum on the legislation, despite calls to boycott some cycling events in the state.

Hutchinson has recently signed two other related bills: one that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections, and one that would bar transgender women and girls from competing in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. It's not clear if Walton has made statements on the other legislation.

Walton issued a statement Tuesday on the Walton Family Foundation website.

“We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas. This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state. We support Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recent veto of discriminatory policy and implore government, business and community leaders to consider the impact of existing and future policy that limits basic freedoms and does not promote inclusiveness in our communities and economy.

Our nation was built on inalienable rights and strengthened by individual differences. Arkansas has been called the land of opportunity because it is a place where anyone can think big and achieve the extraordinary. Any policy that limits individual opportunity also limits our state’s potential.”

Tom Walton and his brother Steuart are principals in RZC Investments, which is a majority shareholder in the Rapha clothing brand, which is based in Arkansas. A Rapha spokesman told BRAIN the company may release a statement on Arkansas legislation this week. The brothers also are investors in HIA Velo, the owner of Allied Cycle Works. And the brothers have supported the development of the area's cycling infrastructure, including a mountain bike trail system in Bentonville. The area has in recent years attracted several major cycling events including mountain bike festivals, the 2016 IMBA World Summit, gravel and mountain bike races, and upcoming cyclocross races including a UCI World Cup event in Fayetteville this fall and the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships there in January 2022.

Drew Medlock, the CEO of Allied, responded to BRAIN's questions Wednesday with a statement.

"We were very disappointed to see the recent string of legislation targeted at LGBTQ people in our state," Medlock said. "Allied believes strongly in diversity and equal access, and we view these recent bills as counter to the inclusiveness we value as a business and cycling community. People have done the right thing to speak up and bring awareness to the issues in the cycling community. However, we see that the UCI, USA Cycling and the Fayetteville community are working in good faith to help drive change and promote inclusiveness. Bikes are a huge part of the progression to transform our region which is good for everyone, and we believe the Cyclocross Worlds and the many other great cycling events in our area contribute to that positive momentum."

On social media and elsewhere, members of the cyclocross community have expressed concern about the upcoming races. Transgender cyclocross racer Molly Cameron penned a column for titled, "Cycling Needs to Take a Stand on Arkansas’s Anti-Transgender Legislation."

Brook Watts, the director for the cyclocross events, made a statement on Twitter last week, calling Hutchinson's decision to sign SB-354 — which bands transgender girls and women from participating in sports —  as "discriminatory and hateful."

In the statement Watts said he understands those who had called for a boycott of the races, but noted that the community he has worked within Fayetteville to develop the races has been accepting and affirming to all genders.

"I encourage you to think of the community that has worked to make this event happens and instead, take action in another way," he wrote. He suggested that supporters consider donating to Arkansas organizations that are working to. make the state more inclusive, or the ACLU.

Watts told BRAIN he would have no further statement on the situation this week.

USAC CEO and President Rob DeMartini told that the organization is unlikely to boycott Arkansas events, preferring to remain part of the dialogue by participating. "It would be different if our athletes were got to be affected, but we don't believe they will be," he told the site. He said the legislation does not appear to ban trans athletes from participating in USAC-sanctioned events, although he said there is some question whether collegiate athletes could be barred if they are competing for a school team. "What we’ll probably do is take out any team competition whatsoever and just let them race as individuals. That way we don’t feel like they’re in violation of the law," he said.

DeMartini later elaborated his position on his Twitter account.

The US CUP mountain bike race series will host two weekends of UCI-sanctioned races in Arkansas this month. US Cup director Ty Kady released a statement reporting that the event's medical staff has made clear that no race participant will be denied medical care, and said the race series will make a donation to NWA Equality, a local LBGTQ group.

VeloNews reports that Chris DiStefano, a cycling industry veteran, was planning on visiting Bentonville in May to check out the burgeoning cycling scene and was even considering relocating there. Then three anti-LGBTQ pieces of state legislation came to the fore, and DiStefano, a father of a transgender child, changed his plans.

"After posting his thoughts on Instagram, DiStefano has become a bellwether and an advisor of sorts for the bike industry, where many people are advocating boycotting upcoming events in Arkansas like the UCI Cyclocross World Championship," VeloNews wrote.

DiStefano is a former Shimano American employee and also worked for Rapha in Portland, Oregon, prior to Rapha's acquisition by RZC.

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Topics associated with this article: DEI and Sustainability, Racing & Sponsorship

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