Anti-discrimination law is in spotlight once again

Casey Grove

A new campaign has begun in the decades-long battle over adding Anchorage's gay and transgender residents to the city's anti-discrimination law.

A local group -- One Anchorage -- filed an application Thursday that would put an initiative on the April 2012 municipal election ballot asking voters to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A similar proposal was approved by the Anchorage Assembly after two months of charged public meetings in 2009. Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed the ordinance changes soon after, saying he hadn't seen evidence of such discrimination.

As it stands, the anti-discrimination ordinance already makes it illegal to withhold housing, employment and other opportunities based on race, gender, age, religion, marital status, or physical and mental disability. One Anchorage wants voters to add "sexual orientation or transgender identity" to the list, said the group's spokesman, Trevor Storrs.

"It's a new name for a very old cause that we've all been working toward, which is the same legal protections for all. It's been going on for decades," Storrs said. "What this initiative does is ensures that the gay and transgender Alaskans, who work hard and play by the rules, will have the exact same legal protections as any other Anchorage resident."

One Anchorage lists several well-known Alaskans as members, including former state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski and former Gov. Tony Knowles as co-chairs, Constitutional Convention delegate Vic Fischer, former First Alaskans Institute president Janie Leask and the Rev. Michael Burke from St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

Storrs said the group plans to release more information supporting its cause in coming weeks. The campaign will include specific examples of discrimination, likely through personal stories and public opinion data, he said.

But for now, "no sneak peeks," Storrs said.

The municipal clerk's office has 10 days to approve One Anchorage's ballot initiative application. Then the group must collect 5,871 signatures from Anchorage voters within 90 days to get the initiative on the ballot.

In the meantime, Storrs expects some opposition.

"The severity of it or the level of it is unknown," he said. "But we truly believe that the majority of Anchorage residents will support this and support us as members of the community."

Alaska Family Council president Jim Minnery -- who, along with the Anchorage Baptist Temple's Rev. Jerry Prevo and other opponents, campaigned against the 2009 ordinance changes -- said Anchorage is already a tolerant community and the campaign is really about gays getting affirmation of their lifestyle.

In 2009, Prevo, Minnery and other opponents to the proposed ordinance changes voiced their opinions in and outside the Assembly's chambers. Demonstrators on both sides of the argument lined the street outside the Assembly chambers in June and July, as the Assembly members heard public testimony.

"It's kind of a shame to have this big public dialogue about what we consider to be a non-issue," Minnery said Thursday.

Still, the proposed initiative poses a threat to religious liberty, Minnery said. "It's their very focused effort to exclude any individual or organization that has that view, that traditional view of sexuality," he said.

If someone thinks homosexuality is wrong, they shouldn't "check their beliefs at the church door" and be forced to provide services to gays or lesbians, Minnery said.

Minnery said opponents of adding sexual orientation to the anti- discrimination list do not yet have any specific plans to voice their opposition.

"We'll do what we always do, which is put together an effort to educate people on the issue," he said. "I think the majority of Alaskans would be considered as tolerant people who are traditional in their view of sexuality."

"I don't think we represent a minority. I think we represent the majority. It's just a matter of waking them up."

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

Coverage of the 2009 effort to pass ordinance