Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Freedom Takes A Hit In Anchorage, Alaska; Anchorage Assembly Passes Gay Nondiscrimination Ordinance By A 7-4 Vote, Queers More Important Than Homeless

Freedom of association took a hit in Anchorage, Alaska on August 11th, 2009. In a not-unexpected development, the Anchorage Assembly finally brought the proposed gay nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote, and passed it by a 7-4 margin. It still is one vote short of the majority needed to override a prospective veto by Mayor Dan Sullivan. Media stories published by the Anchorage Daily News, KTVA Channel 11, and KTUU Channel 2 (with video). You can view all previous posts on this issue HERE, beginning with the most current post.

Voting in favor: Patrick Flynn, Matt Claman, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Jennifer Johnston, Mike Gutierrez, Sheila Selkregg and Assembly Vice-Chair Harriet Drummond. Jennifer Johnston's vote in favor is mildly surprising, because she represents south Anchorage, considered one of the more conservative areas of the community. However, Johnston testified that she was favorably influenced in her life by a gay person whose life was cut short by suicide; this may explain her Yes vote.

Voting against: Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Dan Coffey

The version of the ordinance passed was not one of the previous three versions, but a separate compromise version crafted by Patrick Flynn. You can read his version HERE (AO 2009-64 S-2). Flynn's proposal sought to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people to employment, credit, public accommodations and housing free from discrimination. But he was also flexible enough to exempt small businesses with less than five employees, thus giving them more wiggle room to grow without bureaucratic strangulation. It also spelled out exemptions for churches and other religious organizations. Flynn and Selkregg also inserted a provision in the ordinance to ensure it protected employer's rights to enforce workplace rules and allow them to maintain "gender segregated restrooms."

In reaction, Chris Birch and Bill Starr said they had not been convinced that discrimination against gays and lesbians is a problem in Anchorage. "I don't see signs that say, 'No Gays Allowed,'. We have a tolerant and diverse community that generally gets along," he said. Birch also bemoaned the amount of time devoted to this issue, saying he would rather have devoted the time to determine how to better deal with the homeless problem. This is a valid point, since we are not finding dead queers on our streets, but dead homeless people.

But apparently, queers are more important than homeless people in Anchorage (except for ADN reporter Julia O'Malley, who has spent some time reporting on the issue).

After the vote, Jackie Buckley, an organizer of Equality Works, a group that pushed for passage, said she was very glad that the Assembly has seen there is a problem that needed to be addressed, and that she hopes that Mayor Sullivan will not veto it. Pastor Jerry Prevo, a leading opponent of this and similar proposals since the 1970s, said he was "pleasantly surprised" that Ossiander, the Assembly's chair, had voted against Flynn's compromise. But Prevo hinted once again at a ballot measure. "If the mayor should not veto this and it should become law we can take it to the people and get it on the ballot, and I think people will vote it down like they have in the past", said Prevo. According to Andy Clary in The Alaska Standard, the ACLU is already worried about a prospective ballot measure.

It is unknown at this point whether Mayor Dan Sullivan will veto the ordinance; he has seven days to do so. Eight votes on the Assembly would be required to override the mayoral veto. Sullivan has some potentially unpopular decisions to make in the short run, to include more layoffs of city workers in order to cope with an unexpected additional $9 million budget shortfall. Consequently, I wouldn't be surprised if Sullivan decides not to veto it, not because he approves of it, but because at least small businesses are exempt and also because he trusts in the ability of the pro-family lobby to get a proposition on the municipal ballot to put this before the people. The gay-lovers may be the most vocal and the most abusive, but they are not the most numerous.

And while we may not be allowed to discriminate against gays in employment and housing, the ordinance does not require us as consumers to patronize gay-owned businesses. All I need to do now is to find and post a verified list of gay-owned businesses in Anchorage, and let people decide from there.

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