Robert Loyd (1949–2015)
Robert Loyd—along with his husband, John Schenck—was an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Arkansas, especially same-sex marriage. He was also a business owner and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Loyd and Schenck co-founded Conway’s Pride Parade and were plaintiffs in Wright v. Arkansas, a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Ralph Robert Loyd, called Robert or Bobby, was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on September 24, 1949, to Inge and Troy Loyd. His mother had served in Germany’s regular army, and his father was an American soldier. Loyd’s father brought his wife and son to America when Loyd was three. They lived in Damascus (Van Buren and Faulkner counties). In 1968, at his parents’ insistence, Loyd joined the U.S. Army, leaving to fight in the Vietnam War in March 1968. He worked in communications, often in areas that saw extensive fighting. After leaving Vietnam, he was stationed in Colorado and then Germany.
Loyd left the army in 1970, moving to West Palm Beach, Florida, to work as a hairdresser. As his clients often spent most of the year in New York, he had many of the same clients as John Schenck, a hairdresser working on Long Island. They learned of these shared clients after they began dating. Loyd moved to New York, and the couple then moved to Arkansas in 1978 to care for Loyd’s mother after the death of Loyd’s father.
Loyd and Schenck opened the Lion’s Den hair salon in an old gas station outside of Damascus, and then opened others in Greers Ferry (Cleburne County), Heber Springs (Cleburne County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County). They moved to Conway (Faulkner County) in 1986 and soon purchased a Victorian house near downtown. They opened the Special Effects salon in the house, which they eventually painted bright pink. Later, a “Teach Tolerance” sign was added, and the fence around the yard was painted in rainbow colors.
The couple did not involve themselves in gay-rights activism until a conflict with Conway and Faulkner County law enforcement in 2003, which they saw as motivated by homophobia, and public anti-gay comments from Governor Mike Huckabee. They said they lost many salon clients at first because of their activism.
In 2004, Loyd and Schenck organized the first annual Conway Pride Parade; about 100 people marched in the parade, while there were more than 1,000 protestors. One protestor, Wesley Bono, dumped several tons of cow manure along the parade route before dawn on the day of the parade; he was eventually found guilty of misdemeanor harassment and fined. Two other protestors—Cristina Brown and Little Rock talk radio personality Phillip Beard—tossed pornographic DVDs to attendees of the parade; they negotiated a plea for misdemeanor charges at their trial. The parade became an annual event, drawing more marchers and fewer protestors over the years.
The couple became legally married in Canada in 2004. In 2005, a documentary film about Loyd and Schenck’s activism, Pink Houses, was released.
Loyd and Schenck became plaintiffs in the 2013 case Wright v. Arkansas, which was seeking to end the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage and non-recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. On May 9, 2014, Pulaski County circuit judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban on same-sex marriages. Couples began obtaining marriage licenses the next day in some counties. Loyd and Schenck were at the Pulaski County Courthouse to support the dozens of same-sex couples who were able to marry before the state halted same-sex marriages a week later, but they decided to wait to marry until they could get a marriage license in Faulkner County. The case was then appealed, and county clerks ceased giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
On June 26, 2015, with a 5–4 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that states cannot ban gay marriage, legalizing it nationwide (and thereby closing the Wright case). Loyd and Schenck received their marriage license at the Faulkner County clerk’s office that same day, the first same-sex couple in Faulkner County to do so. The couple married in Conway on August 22, 2015, with Conway mayor Tab Townsell performing the ceremony.
Loyd died suddenly of a heart attack on December 30, 2015. The 2016 Conway Pride parade was dedicated to his memory.
According to Loyd’s obituary, he and Schenck were officially foster parents for eleven years and unofficially for many more (including being “fairy godfathers” to Justin Rawls). They particularly helped young people who had been abandoned due to their sexual orientation; they served as legal guardians for four children over the years. Schenck died in 2016.
For additional information:
Dishongh, Kimberly. “A Safe Place.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 16, 2019, pp. 1E, 6E.
Kienlen, Alex. “Gay Rights Advocate, Parade Founder Remembered.” Log Cabin Democrat, January 5, 2016.
Koon, David. “‘I Can Move a Wall’: A Last Interview with Robert Loyd.” Arkansas Times, January 14, 2016, pp. 12, 35. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/i-can-move-a-wall-a-last-interview-with-robert-loyd/Content?oid=4238641 (accessed September 10, 2020).
Lamb, Joe. “‘Pink House’ Couple’s Documentary Aired at UCA.” Log Cabin Democrat, September 30, 2014.
Robert Loyd Obituary. http://www.rollerfuneralhomes.com/services.asp?locid=14&page=odetail&id=40266 (accessed September 10, 2020).
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas History
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