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Campaign forming to defend Anchorage LGBT anti-discrimination law

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 8, 2016

As Anchorage's new law barring discrimination against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people faces a repeal effort, a campaign to defend it is taking shape.

A group calling itself "Fair Anchorage" registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission this week and listed Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, as its chair.

The Pride Foundation, Alaskans Together For Equality and Christians for Equality are among the other backers of what will be called the "Fair Anchorage" campaign, said Josh Hemsath of the Pride Foundation. Hemsath said the campaign will be designed to educate voters about the Anchorage law regardless of whether a referendum appears on the city ballot in April.

The Anchorage Assembly passed the law 9-2 in October, making it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"It's really about making sure that all Anchorage residents are protected, and feel safe and welcome in the community they live in," Hemsath said.

Hemsath said the campaign will also focus on combating what he described as "several harmful myths" put forward by the opposition about public safety in locker rooms and bathrooms.

In an interview after filing the referendum application, sponsor and conservative talk show host Bernadette Wilson said she was concerned that the law could mix up gender restrictions on bathrooms and locker rooms and affect child safety.

The "Fair Anchorage" campaign is being managed by the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Hilltop Public Solutions, which recently opened an Anchorage office.

At this point, it's uncertain whether a repeal referendum will go before voters in April. Wilson and other supporters of the repeal have been wrangling with the city attorney's office over how the measure would appear on the ballot.

The dispute has essentially boiled down to two words: Supporters of repeal want to ask voters whether the law should "remain law," the same phrasing as a successful November referendum on a city labor law. That means a "no" vote would repeal the law.

City attorneys are arguing the referendum should ask voters whether the law should "be repealed," or a "yes" vote to repeal. A December memo cited past examples on city ballots, and said voters were confused by the phrasing in the labor law referendum.

Wilson, in a letter to the clerk's office, said requiring voters to vote "yes" to repeal the law was "counterintuitive" and would cause confusion.

The referendum supporters can't gather voter signatures — 5,754 are required — until the ballot language is resolved. According to an updated election calendar released Friday by the city clerk's office, the recommended date for the submission of petition signatures for a referendum is Jan. 21.

Even if a referendum does not appear on the April ballot, the law's supporters say they want to be prepared.

"We have every reason to believe we will see some sort of repeal effort, whether in April or at a later date," said Hilltop's Caitlin Copple, who will be managing communications for the campaign against repeal.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately listed Identity Inc. among the backers of the campaign.

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