As February came to a close, spirits were high in Fairbanks after the city council voted 4-2 in favor of Ordinance 6093—an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance that includes protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations for those discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Conservative opponents of the legislation argued that Ordinance 6093 would help some people at expense of others—namely religious individuals who believe that such measures would impinge on their religious beliefs. The ordinance’s most vocal opponent, Assemblyman Lance Roberts, even went so far as to tell the council that the bill would “start a war” and create conflict in the town of 31,000. It is unclear what that conflict might be, however.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the council heard testimony that made it obvious that LGBTQ and gender identity-based discrimination is a much more rampant and widespread problem than anyone had expected. At every council meeting, multiple folks came forward to testify before the council that they had either been denied medical treatment, fired, or refused housing solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To compound the issue, there is no local research—and thus, no data—on how often incidents of discrimination occur. The Alaska State Commission on Human Rights and the Alaska Department of Justice do not look into the frequency of discrimination, and the city police department has no mandate to report hate crimes. And this points to the fact that a huge number of discriminatory incidents go unreported, or, if they are reported, are not formally recorded. This means that the extent of the problem has yet to be fully uncovered. Therefore, it seems that the ordinance would be resolving significantly more conflict than it could potentially create, and it would also help provide government officials and the public accurate information on the scope of the issue.
Sadly, even after the city council approved Ordinance 9063, Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly vetoed the local law “after much soul searching.” He also said in an open letter to the Fairbanks public that the issue required further examination
But this is not the end. Alaska Representatives Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, co-sponsored House Bill 82, which is a statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill. And, at the same time, State Senator Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks introduced a companion bill to the Alaska Senate. If these bills are enacted, Alaska would be the 22nd US state with laws explicitly prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing and employment, and the 21st with regard to public accommodations.
Thanks to these Reps. and State Sen. Kawasaki, there is still hope that we can take one step closer to being a country that truly follows the principle of equal protection under the law.
A helpful map of the current state of LGBTQ non-discin the US can be found here.
As San Francisco Bay Area discrimination attorneys, we closely monitor developments both here in California and across the United States when it comes to discrimination. If you are in the LGBTQ community and feel that you may be experiencing discrimination of any type, reach out to one of our LGBTQ discrimination attorneys for a free consultation. Only a consultation with a trained attorney, whether in San Francisco, Oakland, or Marin County (or via the phone) can determine both the facts and the law of the potential case. We can then advise on the best legal path forward.