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Gay rights initiative likely headed to ballot

Rosemary Shinohara
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Sponsors of an initiative to extend legal protections against discrimination to gay and transgender people in Anchorage on Thursday turned in a several-inch-high stack of petitions to the city clerk's office to put the measure on the April city election ballot.

Volunteers collected 13,515 signatures of Anchorage registered voters in support of the initiative, said Trevor Storrs, spokesman for One Anchorage, the group behind the initiative. Co-chairs of the group are former Gov. Tony Knowles and former state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski.

To get on the ballot, the group needs just 5,871 valid signatures, city clerk Barbara Gruenstein said. She said it will take until sometime next week for her office to review the signatures.

A conservative Christian group, Alaska Family Council, is already planning to campaign against the measure.

The initiative is similar to a city ordinance that was passed by the Anchorage Assembly in 2009 after weeks of public hearings and debate, but then was vetoed by Mayor Dan Sullivan.

The fight before the Assembly was long and loud, with hundreds of people on both sides speaking out.

"I would be surprised if we saw anything as intense as it was before the Assembly" during the initiative campaign, said Assemblyman Patrick Flynn.

When he vetoed the gay rights ordinance in 2009, Sullivan said he was not convinced there is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation here.

On Thursday, Sarah Erkmann, the mayor's spokeswoman, said this was his reaction to the initiative: "Mayor Sullivan believes a ballot initiative is appropriate in that it allows all citizens to weigh in on this subject."

Existing city law makes it illegal to discriminate in hiring, housing and other opportunities on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, marital status or physical or mental disability.

The initiative, if it gets to voters and is passed, will add "sexual orientation, or transgender identity" to the list.

"I wish we lived in a world where everyone was automatically treated the same regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with who they are as people," Storrs said at a press conference in the City Hall lobby. "The reality is a person who works hard and does a good job can be fired simply because they are gay."

A separate group representing some religious and faith-based organizations announced its support of the initiative. The group, Christians for Equality, includes pastors of a number of churches, such as St. Mary's Episcopal, United Methodist, Immanuel Presbyterian and Joy Lutheran.

But Alaska Family Council president Jim Minnery said the council and its legislative arm, Alaska Family Action, will be in the fore of a battle against the initiative.

"It's not clear that there is any widespread discrimination against the gay community," Minnery said. "What is clearer is that this is a true threat to religious liberties."

He cited as an example that faith-based adoption agencies in Boston could no longer specify that adoptive families have a mother and father after a gay rights law was approved there.

Minnery and the Rev. Jerry Prevo of Anchorage Baptist Temple were among leading opponents of the gay rights ordinance when it was before the Assembly in 2009. Rev. Prevo was out of town and not available for comment Thursday, according to the person answering the temple's phone.

Storrs said One Anchorage volunteers collected signatures from all around town where people gather, from house parties to public areas close to shopping centers.

One Anchorage has raised about $90,000 so far for its campaign, he said.

Anchorage Daily News