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Anchorage initiative seeks to limit bathroom and locker room use to gender on birth certificate

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: April 13, 2017
  • Published April 12, 2017

The backers of a new Anchorage ballot initiative want voters to decide whether to require people to use public locker rooms or restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate.

The bathroom initiative was submitted March 28 and is a pared-down version of an earlier "Protect Our Privacy" initiative, a more wide-ranging attempt to dismantle Anchorage's legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The new version has the same title and leading sponsors, Kim Minnery and Stephanie Williams.

But this time, the initiative zeroes in on the section of the nearly two-year-old Anchorage law that gave transgender people the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Other states, including North Carolina and Texas, have been hotly debating similar legislation, also called "bathroom bills."

"We'll be able to have this community discussion," said Jim Minnery, the husband of sponsor Kim Minnery and the president of Alaska Family Action, a group that advocates for socially conservative issues. "I think it's healthy, think it needs to be done."

Jim Minnery and others say the Anchorage law could be used improperly by nontransgender men to enter women's facilities, though there's yet to be such a reported incident in Anchorage. Critics of such legislation say it's discriminatory and that local law already makes it illegal to harm or harass people or invade privacy.

Jim Minnery, President of Alaska Family Action. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

In October 2015, Anchorage became the first city in Alaska to pass an ordinance barring discrimination over sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and among businesses that serve the public. The ordinance allows business owners to provide locker rooms segregated by gender, as long as people can use the facilities consistent with their gender identity.

The ordinance says gender identity can be established by medical history, uniform assertion of the gender identity, "or other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held, core to a person's gender-related self-identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose." That last clause in the existing law suggests that no one has the right to use a bathroom for a voyeuristic reason or worse.

City attorney Bill Falsey said his office is close to finishing a legal review of the new initiative. The review is required before supporters can collect signatures.

In January, Falsey's office rejected the first version of the "Protect Our Privacy" initiative.

That initiative sought much more expansive changes to the Anchorage law, including provisions that would allow some businesses to refuse service for same-sex ceremonies and exempt employers and adoption services from nondiscrimination services, in addition to barring transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Falsey's office said that version violated the "single-subject" rule, a provision of state and local law designed to simplify ballot measures.

That ruling led Minnery and other sponsors to file the much narrower version last month. If it passes the legal review, supporters will begin collecting the thousands of signatures necessary to put it on the April 2018 city ballot.

Much of the language in the initiative proposal is similar to a bill currently being debated in the Texas Legislature.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Anchorage passed its anti-discrimination law. It was October 2015, not July 2015.