As a queer Alaskan, I’m appalled by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s newest bill targeting LGBTQ students. As a writer and researcher on queer youth experiences, I could write about the psychological, physical and human rights issues that could spur from such a bill. However, I recognize that many conservative Alaskans’ opinions about this issue are unlikely to change, including Dunleavy’s. So, instead, I would like to talk about something I hope everyone can agree on: the potential economic impacts of such bills on the future of Alaska.
Two years ago, I wrote in the Anchorage Daily News about a second pandemic hitting Alaska: the brain drain. I witnessed many of my most intelligent and hard-working friends leave the state we love to seek opportunities elsewhere. I myself left Alaska with the eventual goal of moving back home after I acquired the career experience needed to make an impact in my community. Since that original article, the problem has only become larger.
In November of last year, Alaska Beacon published an excellent article by Yereth Rosen detailing the continual problem of population decline and youth outmigration. In the article, Republicans and Democrats showed their mutual concern over this issue — it was cited by nearly every candidate running against Dunleavy in the last election cycle.
Alaska’s ability to retain and grow our young adult population is not purely tied to increasing historically available job opportunities within the state, it’s also tied to expanding the types of work available. Oil and fishing are declining, and there’s no future where we see production permanently increasing in these fields.
However, our problem goes beyond just courting high-paying jobs in technology, sustainable energy, business services and tourism. Our political environment must be balanced and reflect, at least partly, what young Americans see as important — including LGBTQ+ rights and protections. Outing queer students to potentially abusive parents and isolating them at school does not align with young peoples’ ideals. According to the GenForward survey of Americans ages 18-30, the exact demographic Alaska needs most, more than 75% of young adults support LGBTQ rights and protections. This includes supporting queer youth.
I’m not about to say that Alaska desperately needs to become a liberal, Democratic stronghold. Alaska is an independent state with conservative tendencies; that is clear. However, targeting and outing queer youth — with potentially psychologically and physically abusive parents — doesn’t represent the independent and balanced Alaska I love. It is a regression at a time when the state desperately needs progression. It’s a red flag to thousands of smart young people contemplating taking a chance on the 49th state.
Mitchel Jurasek is a born-and-raised queer Alaskan from Talkeetna passionate about LGBTQ+ youth protections and the 49th state.
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