Equal rights law expected to sail through Anchorage Assembly

An equal rights ordinance that divided Anchorage before failing in a ballot vote is expected to sail easily through the city’s Assembly this week.

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The ordinance was originally introduced by South Anchorage Assembly Member Bill Evans and modified with input from Downtown’s Patrick Flynn. It adds sexual orientation and gender expression as categories under which city residents are protected from discrimination in housing, at work, or at public facilities.

Evans works as an employment lawyer, and has seen a small number of discrimination cases the new law would cover. But because gender and sexuality aren’t currently categories, when incidents do happen they don’t get reported.

“The intent was to make a statement about what is appropritate or inappropriate in our community,” Evans said of why he opted to draft the ordinance. “That statement is that in Anchorage in the 21st century discriminating against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t acceptable.”

The modified version of the ordinance leaves in language for ministerial exemptions, a way of giving some latitude to religious institutions in employment issues. Some feel the exemptions go too far, others not far enough.

Though public testimony at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting is expected to be heated, most of those watching city politics expect the measure to pass overwhelmingly.

If it does, Anchorage will become the first city in Alaska to put full protections for gender and sexuality into law.