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Is Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan willfully ignoring gay discrimination?

  • Author: Amanda Coyne
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published April 2, 2012

"To this day, I still have not seen anything to document there is a problem." That's what Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan told the Wall Street Journal in its report on Proposition 5, the municipal ballot initiative that would add sexual identity to the municipal code as a class that is protected against discrimination.

In a Q and A with the Anchorage Daily News, Sullivan said that although he has heard stories, he has yet to be presented with "one specific example" not one "single quantifiable piece of evidence that they had either been fired from their job or denied housing because of their sexuality…"

Some say that Sullivan hasn't seen "quantifiable" evidence only because neither state nor federal agencies can collect data about such discrimination because there's nothing in federal or state law that says that discriminating against someone based on their sexual orientation is against law. In other words, there's no data to collect because no one is asking the question.

Mel Green, for one, was the principal investigator of a recent report that documents discrimination in Anchorage. She also writes for the popular blog Bent Alaska. She got help from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, where she has worked for 21 years, and the ACLU. Although Green is gay and has strong views about discrimination, she tried to be as disinterested and scientific as the subject allowed.

The study polls 268 gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people who live or have lived in Anchorage. Among other things, it found that more than 73.1 percent of respondents reported hiding sexual orientation to avoid job discrimination, more than 42 percent said they've been threatened with physical violence in Anchorage, and nearly 19 percent reported harassment by landlords or other tenants in Anchorage

Either Sullivan, whose reelection campaign is in full swing and is expected to win a second term against challenger Paul Honeman, hasn't seen it, or he's ignored it. He didn't return calls requesting comment.

Anchorage Daily News columnist Paul Jenkins, who, true to his libertarian leanings, supports gay marriage, snubbed the survey. He called it "self-serving."

These kinds of comments make Green bristle. "We're being told that on one hand we don't have any evidence, but we're not going to have help getting that evidence in any way by having a municipality-sponsored study or from the equal-rights commission," Green told Alaska Dispatch when the preliminary report was released. "But then when we go and get the data ourselves, it's suspect, because it's a queer who did it."

Green conducted the survey following the last time the issue was in the news. After a long and very public debate, the Anchorage Assembly in August 2009 passed an ordinance by a vote of 7-4 that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in issues of housing and employment. Sullivan vetoed the legislation a week later, citing insufficient evidence that discrimination exists.

"My review shows that there is clearly a lack of quantifiable evidence necessitating this ordinance," Sullivan said in a statement explaining the veto.

Sullivan, whose campaign slogan is, "Integrity Matters," sat through hours of acrimonious testimony, where, on one side, people stood in front him and told him that they had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. On the other side, people said that they wanted to have the right to hire, or not hire, anyone they choose -- including those whose "lifestyles" they found morally reprehensible. (Read some of the transcripts for the hearings here.)

Sullivan saw the signs that were being waved, signs like, "Keep perverts out of society" and "Stop forced acceptance," and "Homosexuals are going straight to hell."

Perhaps Rev. Jerry Prevo of the well known Anchorage Baptist Temple summed up the opposition's feelings about the issue best when he said the following to his flock:

"We're not saying that these people can't be gay, they can't be lesbian, they can't be bisexual, they can't be transgender perverts. We're not saying that. We're just saying we don't want them in some of our places. We just don't want our children exposed to their perverted, immoral unholy lifestyle."

The initiative leaves untouched existing municipal law that allows religious groups and denominational institutions to give preferential treatment to people of the same faith.

The latest poll shows the initiative is supported 50 to 41 percent of Anchorage residents. Of 500 Anchorage voters surveyed by pollster Dittman Research and Communications Corp., just 9 percent are undecided. The poll was conducted March 25-26. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda@alaskadispatch.com

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