By Alex Kienlen
Log Cabin Correspondent
Robert Loyd, nationally recognized gay rights advocate and longtime Conway resident, died suddenly last week of an apparent heart attack.
His death was announced by his husband, John Schenck, via a social media post on Dec. 31.
“I really do not know what to say but here goes,” Schenck wrote. “Last night my BELOVED HUSBAND OF ALMOST 41 YEARS, had a heart attack and died. I will post more later today.”
Loyd and Schenck lived in Conway’s landmark “Pink House” on Robinson Street, the former Dunham house, and were tireless advocates for gay rights, with an emphasis in later years on legalizing gay marriage in Arkansas.
Loyd’s life was itself a study of the trajectory of gay rights in America. He met his future husband in Florida just after leaving the Army, having served in the Vietnam War. This was a period in American where awareness of the gay community was growing, and the era of the “confirmed bachelor” was fading.
By 1978 Loyd and Schenck moved to Arkansas to aid Loyd’s recently-widowed mother. Arkansas was not, it is suggested, as open to openly gay men as Florida had been in those days. Faced with this reality, the pair painted their downtown home pink with a “Teach Tolerance” message over its door, and ran their hair salon business from the home.
Their openness of a pink house was only the start. Loyd and Schenck both would frequently accept speaking engagements, sharing their lives with community groups and in classrooms as they sought, as their home encouraged, to teach tolerance.
It is difficult to speak of Loyd without Schenck. They had that close finish-the-other’s-sentence know-what-you’re-thinking way about them which some couples are able to gain over the years, and in the various engagements in the effort to teach tolerance they travelled in pair.
The pair found themselves treading an ever-widening line during their years here. While a pink house in the city’s historic district sent an obvious message (and, especially in the early years, attracted vandals) they were at the same time citizens of Conway, one of us, that couple who lived just off downtown, on Robinson.
Their efforts to teach tolerance continued, a notable line-widening event being Conway’s annual Gay Pride parade. The first event was in 2004 and was met by a great deal of protests and vandalism (including, famously, a lone man dumping manure along the parade route — which the judge told him to clean and was gone before the parade started). Protesters lined the parade route. Since then the yearly event, gleefully presided over by Loyd and his husband, has brought out an ever-growing number of supporters, and an ever-diminishing number of protests. The most recent event included a number of non-gay marchers, including local church communities, and the protesters were rare.
And the work continued. Loyd and his husband were notably active in their call for gay marriage equality. They were a frequent site at protest rallies and marches, and were among the first in Arkansas to gain a marriage license when the Supreme Court ruling cleared, after having been married in Canada in 2004. They were certainly the first same-sex couple in Faulkner County to receive a marriage license in June.
Loyd is survived by his partner of 41 years, John Schenck. In lieu of flowers, it is asked donations be made to Lucie’s Place, a LGBTQ shelter in Little Rock. A memorial service is set for Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway.