Public testimony closes on city discrimination ordinance

Updated: 8:45pm, Wednesday 16, 2015

Public testimony has closed on a controversial Anchorage ordinance that could extend legal protections to residents on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But the measure’s final form isn’t yet clear.

Members of the public line up to testify before the Anchorage Assembly on an anti-discrimination ordinance. Public testimony will continue Wednesday night, Sept. 16. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.
Members of the public line up to testify before the Anchorage Assembly on an anti-discrimination ordinance. Public testimony will continue Wednesday night, Sept. 16. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.

After extending the public commenting period to accommodate overflow, final action on the measure was postponed until the Assembly’s September 29th meet. That was in part because Assembly Chair Dick Traini wanted to make sure all members of the body were present for voting, and Vice Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson is currently out of state for a White House event.

The Assembly will take up proposed amendments to a modified version of AO96. Some will be minor tweaks to language, particularly on the wording around ministerial exemptions that give hiring latitude to religious organizations. But conservative Assembly Member Amy Demoboski said she plans to introduce multiple amendments that are aimed at better protecting religious freedoms.

Most of those watching the measure expect it will pass. If so, Anchorage would become the first city in Alaska make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexuality or gender expression.

Original Story

Testimony on an anti-discrimination measure in the Anchorage Assembly stretched on for hours Tuesday night, with no decision ultimately reached.

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Under discussion is an ordinance that extends legal protections to residents on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression.

Arguments touched on religious freedoms, personal experiences, and the status of equal rights in Anchorage, with 111 residents signed up to testify, though not all getting the chance by the end of the meeting at 11pm.

In 2012, a ballot measure addressing the same issue was rejected in a city-wide vote. Much of the discussion then, as now, centered on whether or not Anchorage residents actually experience discrimination from their sexuality or gender expression.

Many testified that it can be difficult filing such discrimination cases because there are identity categories that aren’t currently recognized under the law.

“I know from my practice as an attorney who represents employees and other people who have suffered discrimination that discrimination against LGBT people is taking place in Anchorage and in Alaska,” said Anchorage lawyer Caitlin Shortell.

Unlike previous iterations of the ordinance, this version is proceeding steadily through the Assembly, with even opponents expecting it to pass. A majority of the Assembly supports the amended version that leaves in certain religious exemptions.

Public testimony continues Wednesday, starting at 5pm in Assembly chambers.