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It's time for city to stand for equality

As two long-time former members of the Alaska State Legislature, we feel it is time to strengthen the Anchorage Municipal Code on equal opportunity for all persons by adding protection for sexual orientation and veterans' status.

In the past Alaska has often been a leader or among the leaders in the slow process of granting equal rights to its citizens. It is hard to believe that a women's suffrage parade on the eve of President Wilson's inauguration was attacked by a mob. Hundreds of women were injured but no arrests were made. The Alaska Territory granted suffrage in March of 1913. It was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment passed and became the law of the land.

In 1924 the U.S. Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans including Alaska Natives without terminating tribal rights and property. Two years earlier Alaska Native leader William Paul had led action so that a federal court gave Alaska Natives the right to vote in territorial elections.

In 1945 Elizabeth Peratrovich, president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, eloquently testified before the Alaska Territorial Senate and was instrumental in the passage of an anti-discrimination bill. The Declaration of Rights section of our Alaska State Constitution adopted by the citizens of Alaska essentially reiterates the U.S. Bill of Rights and bans discrimination based on race, color, creed, sex or national origin and offers due process protection.

Our Anchorage Municipal Charter, passed by Anchorage voters on Sept. 16, 1975, added rights to opportunities in housing, public accommodations, employment and education and established the Equal Rights Commission.

Sadly, our progress to equal opportunities for all was interrupted by an ugly campaign in the late 1970s. Enough members of the Anchorage Assembly were so intimidated that they failed to maintain their unanimous support for adding sexual preference to the protected class.

The late Dave Rose, a good friend and colleague of ours, continued his stand for strengthening the equal rights protection although he and his family were subjected to hateful protests raised by some in our community.

At the time, Dave said, "I make no apologies for my position on equal rights. I have never deserted a minority of any type for political expediency. Politicians make many compromises but they must have the courage never to compromise on the question of human freedom. I never have and I never will."

Now is the time for our community, through our elected Assembly, to stand for equal opportunity for all persons within our community. It is the right thing to do.

Cynthia Toohey is a former Republican state representative from Anchorage. Arliss Sturgulewski is a former state senator from Anchorage and former Republican candidate for governor. Anchorage Ordinance No. 2009-64 will be heard before the Anchorage Assembly on June 9.