Supporters of a proposed ordinance to extend anti-discrimination legal protections to gay and transgender people in Anchorage are asking an opposition group to pull a campaign ad that says day care centers would be forced to hire transvestites or face jail time. They say the ad is offensive and misleading.
The One Anchorage Campaign, which supports Proposition 5, held a press conference Tuesday to ask the Protect Your Rights -- Vote No On Prop. 5 campaign to remove the ad titled "Daycare" from TV and radio, where it has been airing this week.
In the ad, a cartoon "transvestite" who wants to work at a day care is drawn as a man with a jutting jaw and body hair, wearing a short pink dress, red high heels and lipstick.
If Prop. 5 passes, the narrator of the ad says, "it will be illegal for Carol to refuse a job to a transvestite who wants to work with toddlers."
That imagery is an "offensive, stigmatizing and distorted" representation of a transgender person, said Trevor Storrs, a spokesman for the One Anchorage campaign.
Transgender people are twice as likely as the general population to be assaulted, Storrs said, and the imagery in the ad "is definitely fanning the flames of fear that can lead to hate and violence."
Jim Minnery, a leader of the Protect Your Rights -- Vote No On Prop. 5 campaign, which produced the commercial, said the ad points out that because "transgender" isn't defined in the ordinance, a scenario like the one portrayed in the commercial could play out under the law.
"I think it's a shocking flaw in Prop. 5 and shows profound disrespect to voters that the authors didn't feel it was important to provide a definition of transgender identity," Minnery said.
He defended his group's free speech rights and said the cartoon caricature was meant to grab attention. "You kind of have to cut to the chase; you have 30 seconds," he said.
Since the law doesn't define transgender, why couldn't it include a cross-dressing man, Minnery asked.
His group's concern, he said, is that without a clear definition of transgender, someone who considers himself to be a different gender could require a business to accommodate him.
In addition to the threat to religious freedom he says is posed by the proposed ordinance, it "creates a whole set of legal issues for the municipality."
One of the speakers at Tuesday's press conference was Drew Phoenix, a non-profit worker who has become the public face of Anchorage's transgender community.
The soft-spoken, goatee-wearing redhead was born a girl named Ann Gordon. He says he knew from the age of 3 that he was a boy, not a girl.
When he moved to Alaska several years ago, Phoenix left behind a long and brutally public gender transition that happened while he was serving as the pastor of a Baltimore Methodist church. He wanted to start fresh and Alaska seemed like the place to do it.
Phoenix said he decided to go public during the Prop. 5 campaign for two reasons.
"I love Anchorage," he said. "And that's what every generation does for the next one to have a better life."
Transgender people like him go through years of intensive therapy and often take on a long process of hormones and surgery, he said. That's very different from transvestites, sometimes called cross-dressers, who by dictionary definition "derive pleasure from dressing in clothes appropriate to the opposite sex."
The cartoon "reduces us to an inhuman caricature people can attack," he said.
"I (live publicly as a transgender person) at a cost," he said.
If a complaint involving a transgender person were actually filed, says Anchorage employment lawyer Thomas Daniel, who is not affiliated with either side of the debate, the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission or eventually a court would seek to find a commonly accepted or medical definition of the term.
According to the American Psychological Association, transgender is a term for people whose gender identity doesn't match the sex they were born with. The APA defines "sex" as the biological, physical status of being male or female and "gender" as a socially constructed role.
To legally claim protection, Daniel said, a transgender person would have to prove he sincerely experienced a different psychological sense of his gender than his sex at birth.
"Typically that includes someone who has a certification from a psychiatrist or a physician," he said.
Daniel said the scenario presented in the ad is an extreme example that falls in a gray area of the law.
"The day care center could have a dress code like any employer can have," Daniel said.
Storrs said his group didn't feel it was appropriate to ask broadcasters to take the ad off the air but is appealing to the Vote No On Prop. 5 group to remove it.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News