Gay rights measure's changes criticized by both sides

Megan Holland

Hundreds of people gathered outside Loussac Library for a second night of demonstration Wednesday, and scores lined up to testify at a special session of the Anchorage Assembly considering an amendment to the city's anti-discrimination law that would extend the law's protections to gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile off camera, efforts to redraft the proposed law to appease opponents had some original supporters backing away. Successive drafts not only water down the law but set into stone the discrimination it is meant to fight, they say.

Those who oppose any extension of the city's existing anti-discrimination law do not seem appeased by the re-drafts.

The hot-button issues -- where some city lawmakers are trying to find middle ground -- are employment, religion, and the definition of "sexual orientation."

Three drafts of the ordinance now floating among Assembly members differ on these points. Supporters of the original proposal seem divided on a second draft, but they all object to a third draft.

"The added language in the third version guts the intent and the integrity of the ordinance," said Jackie Buckley, spokeswoman for Equality Works, the group that backed the original initiative.

She says that version would actually make people of a different sexual orientation second-class citizens by specifying that employers can discriminate against them but not against other protected classes.

Opponents of any change, led by Rev. Jerry Prevo, of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, don't like any of the drafts.

All three versions "are asking us to approve a lifestyle that 99 percent of all mothers in Alaska and the world would not and do not want their children to be involved in," Prevo said.

Prevo said he would "possibly" consider supporting an amendment if the word "sexual orientation" was removed and in its place was written "straight, gay and lesbians," and if iron-clad exemptions were given to not only religious organizations but also religious people.

The original proposed ordinance, designated No. 64, simply added the words "sexual orientation" and "veteran's status" to the list of protected classes that is already city law -- race, color, sex, religion, national original, marital status.

The addition of "veteran's status" as a protected class has since been tabled indefinitely.

The first draft defined sexual orientation as being "actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender expression or identity." That definition would have protected transgender people. The latest rewrite narrows the language to heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals.

The second version of the ordinance, called No. 64-S, was written by Acting-Mayor Matt Claman, who favors the law. It was meant to appease opponents while still protecting people of a different sexual orientation. But it left original supporters on the fence by allowing small, home-based businesses to discriminate against all protected categories, including race.

That worried East Anchorage's Assemblyman Mike Gutierrez.

"In one way, we are taking a step forward, but we are also taking a giant leap backward," he said at the time.

Upsetting to supporters is that the most recent version backs off from protecting gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the workplace.

"Taking out employment as a protected area is totally unacceptable," Buckley said. "It's a deal breaker."

"If you exempt employment, really, there's no point," Gutierrez said.

Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson, who represents Midtown, was a solid supporter of the original ordinance, calling it a human rights issue and saying she was absolutely going to vote yes. Now, though, if her only choice is the third version, she says she would vote no.

The workplace, she said, is where the protection is most needed.

"That's one of the biggest areas where discrimination exists, in the workplace. I know first hand ... being an African-American. In the workplace is a big issue."

She said her constituents are telling her to vote to extend equal rights. "I feel really good about that," she said.

Assemblyman Chris Birch, who represents South Anchorage, said he has been leaning toward voting no all along. The proposed amendments are not changing his mind.

Assembly members are rushing it through, he said, to get it passed while Claman holds office rather than face a possible veto of Mayor-Elect Dan Sullivan, who takes over July 1.

With public testimony scheduled to continue at least through Monday, Claman doesn't know that he will get a chance to weigh in on gay rights while he is the mayor. Wednesday, he declined to take a position on any of the versions.

"We'll just see what it looks like when it's done," he said.

Find Megan Holland online at or call 257-4343.

First draft

Ordinance No. 2009-64

• Adds veteran’s status and sexual orientation to the list of protected categories.

• Defines “sexual orientation” as homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people.

Second draft:

Ordinance No. 2009-64 S

• Removes “veteran’s status.”

• Excludes small, home-operated businesses with no more than four people from the whole law, meaning those businesses can discriminate based on sexual orientation, race, color, sex, religion, ethnicity, age, etc.

• All employers have the right to impose dress codes or other work rules.

• Biologically male people must use male bathrooms, and biologically female people must use female restrooms.

• Exempts religious organizations — so they can discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Third draft:

Ordinance No. 2009-64 S1

• Definition of “sexual orientation” is narrowed to exclude transgender people.

• Allows all employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

• The city’s Equal Rights Commission is instructed to track complaints alleging discrimination (to inform further discussion).

• Businesses that deal with the public can impose dress codes, work rules, codes of conduct, etc.

Photo gallery: Equal rights rallies
Video: Demonstrators and testimony