Alaska News

Anchorage LGBT non-discrimination ordinance targeted for repeal

A new effort to ask voters to repeal the recently enacted Anchorage law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination has been placed before city officials.

The repeal referendum, if it makes it to the ballot, would ask voters whether Assembly Ordinance 96 should remain law. The ordinance, passed in September, made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The petition application, filed Wednesday, lists conservative talk radio host Bernadette Wilson as its primary committee sponsor. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was once co-host of Wilson's show, where he was the liberal foil to her conservative personality. Berkowitz supported the ordinance.

The municipal attorney must approve the petition before supporters can begin collecting signatures. Deputy Municipal Clerk Amanda Moser said the petitioners would need to collect 5,754 signatures of registered municipal voters by Jan. 11 to be considered for the April election.

Wilson said she and 11 other women -- including the 10 registered voters needed to file the petition -- came together because they have "grave concerns" over what the ordinance includes. She said in a phone interview Monday those concerns specifically related to "bathrooms and locker rooms and the safety of our children."

"We trust that everyone here within the community is interested in looking out for the best interests of our children when it comes to bathroom and locker room use," she said.

Wilson said the activists had reached out to other organizations about working together on a campaign against the ordinance, but declined to say if they were working with any of those organizations as of Monday. The ordinance was strongly opposed by evangelical Christians organized in churches and at least one nonprofit, Alaska Family Action. Jim Minnery, president of Alaska Family Action, did not return a message requesting comment.

It's not the first time bathroom issues have been part of the debate over LGBT non-discrimination laws. In September, Assemblywoman Amy Demboski proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would have allowed businesses to segregate bathrooms based on a person's male or female anatomy. The amendment failed, but the final version allows for gender-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms or dressing rooms as long as people use the facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Drew Phoenix, director of Anchorage's LGBT nonprofit Identity Inc., said that he understands that Wilson and many other Alaskans have a "lack of familiarity" when it comes to understanding transgender issues.

Phoenix, a transgender man himself, said he "would love to have a conversation with (Wilson)" about the issue.

"I just think she's undereducated," he said.

Phoenix said many he's talked to in the LGBT community were "heartbroken" over the news that another repeal effort was underway. Voters last considered an ordinance that would provide LGBT protections in 2012. That ordinance failed, with 58 percent of Anchorage voters opposed.

Phoenix said he believes attitudes have changed since then. He was optimistic Monday that the repeal would be turned down if it makes it to the ballot.

"I really believe (perceptions have changed)," he said Monday. "But it doesn't mean it's going to be easy for us."

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.