Survey indicates sexual-orientation discrimination in Anchorage

Michelle Theriault Boots

Respondents to an advocacy group's new survey of the experiences of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Anchorage reported significant levels of verbal harassment, threats of physical violence and workplace and school harassment, with more than 70 percent saying they had hid their sexual orientation to avoid job discrimination.

The advocacy group Identity, Inc. and the Alaska LGBT Community Survey Task Force released the 132-page Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey on Thursday, less than two weeks before the city votes on a controversial proposed ordinance to extend legal anti-discrimination protections to gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Trevor Storrs, a spokesman for the One Anchorage Campaign, which supports the Anchorage Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as Proposition 5, said the survey was a rebuke to the idea that discrimination against gays is not widespread enough in the city to accord a policy change.

"This report will further illustrate to our community that Anchorage does experience a level of discrimination to gay and transgender people that warrants and supports the need to vote yes on Prop. 5," Storrs said.

Storrs said he didn't know how the One Anchorage campaign would use the survey, if at all, in its final weeks of campaigning before the April 3 vote.

Calls to the leader of the main group in opposition to the ordinance, Protect Your Rights -- Vote No On Prop 5, were not returned Thursday afternoon and evening.

Melissa S. Green, who also authored two similar reports in the 1980s, was the principal investigator for the report. She also writes for the popular LGBT issues blog Bent Alaska. Green said that while she's an activist with strong and public opinions on the subject, she and other collaborators on the research took pains to ensure their methodology was sound.

"We're continually told 'Give us proof, give us proof there's any discrimination,' " Green said.

Since it is not illegal, discrimination is hard to prove, so a survey is the clearest way to reflect what's going on in the gay community, she said.

"Short of us convincing some academic to take an interest and study this, we have to pretty much do it ourselves."

Staff from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, where Green has worked for 21 years as a publications specialist, helped to design the survey, which polled 268 gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people who live or have lived in Anchorage. They were recruited via social networks, publicity in mainstream and LGBT media and targeted Facebook ads.

A paid staffer from the ACLU of Alaska assisted with some aspects of the survey but most of it was done by Green and others on their own time, Green said.

The survey uses a "snowball sample" methodology, which uses a word-of-mouth approach, and can't claim to be statistically representative of the gay population as a whole, Green said.

"These are respondents who are at least connected into LGBT community, which a lot of our people aren't," Green said.

In the direct comments section of the survey, some wrote that they felt comfortable in Anchorage and had no problems securing housing or jobs.

"I've found that in Anchorage people tend to leave you alone," wrote one gay male respondent.

But others wrote about incidents at events or a pervasive fear of being attacked.

"The verbal abuse on the streets and at public events, such as Aces hockey games, parades/picnics and Fur Rondy are not acceptable," wrote a gay male respondent.

"Alaska is not a place for transgendered person to do transition safely, so I am undergoing that while I am out of state," a female-to-male transgender respondent wrote.

Green said she was most surprised at how little had changed since she last surveyed Anchorage's gay population in the mid-1980s.

Some of the other findings:

• 73.1 percent of respondents reported hiding sexual orientation to avoid job discrimination

• 76.5 percent said they've experienced verbal abuse in Anchorage

• 42.5 percent said they've been threatened with physical violence in Anchorage

• 44 percent said they've been harassed by an employer or co-workers in Anchorage

• 41 percent said they've been bullied or harassed in Anchorage schools and educational institutions

• 18.7 percent reported harassment by landlords or other tenants in Anchorage

The entire report can be found online at

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.

Anchorage Daily News