With less than a week to go until municipal elections, the propaganda war around the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative is getting nasty. This week those campaigning for the initiative held a press conference to chastise their opponents and ask that ads they consider offensive to be taken off the air.
An anti-prop 5 advertisement showing a cartoon of a man dressed in a women’s dress applying for a job at a daycare is causing a stir in Anchorage.
“Carol runs a daycare center in Anchorage. But if Proposition 5 passes, it will be illegal for Carol to refuse a job to a transvestite who wants to work with toddlers. If she hires him, she risks losing customers. And if she refuses, she could be fined or imprisoned.”
The ad shows a tall man with a stubbly face and hairy legs dressed in a pink mini-dress. Those campaigning for the initiative say the imagery perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and they’ve asked the opposition to pull it. Proposition 5 would change the municipal code to include protections for gay and transgender people. Conservative church leaders say it could infringe upon religious freedoms. Liberal church leaders, like Pastor Michael Burke with Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church say the cartoon ads need to go.
“We can have disagreements, that’s understandable. But our disagreements should never veer into the area where we dehumanize or make cartoon caricatures that create a real climate of fear of the other –that paints them in ways that real people aren’t.”
‘Yes on 5’, the group promoting the proposition has fired back with their own commercial, showing a real transgender person — a transgender man who looks typically male, dressed in a gray t-shirt and khaki pants.
“My name is Drew, I’m transgender. I was born female but I’ve fully as a man for many years. It’s offensive when people like me are portrayed as a cartoon, or worse yet, someone to be feared. Discrimination is dehumanizing. No one should be fired just because of who they are. I’m a real person. And like all people, I should have real legal protections. Vote yes on prop 5.”
Jim Minnery is with the anti-prop 5 group, ‘Protect Your Rights’ that paid for the cartoon add. He responded to my request for an interview with an email that said, “We stand by the ads, believe they provide a necessary educational moment for voters and we have no intention of pulling the ads.”
The ad controversy comes on the heels of a letter sent by the Catholic Archbishop of Anchorage, Roger Schwietz to parishioners urging them to oppose Prop 5.
Ira Lupu is a Professor of Law at George Washington University in Washington DC. His scholarly specialty is law and religion.
He says, compared to the rest of the country, the conversation in Anchorage, is way behind.
“I would say about half the states have laws like this. And even before many of the states did, a number of cities — New York City, Boston, Boulder, Colorado – you know probably the more – cities that people would think of as more liberal cities tended to have local, citywide ordinances like this – that goes back 20 years or more.”
But he says he sees why conservative religious groups are up in arms.
“One of the things that really jumps out at me is, and I’m sure is part of the cause of the controversy in your Anchorage proposition is that the only reference I see to freedom of religion is this one paragraph that says, “It’s the intent of this chapter to guarantee legal protections consistent with federal and state constitutions including freedom of expression, association and freedom of religion’ and that’s all it says – and the ordinance is very vague.”
But Lupu notes there is already an exemption for faith-based hiring in the Anchorage municipal code for bona fide religious or denominational organizations. Jeffrey Mittman is Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. He says the discourse taking place around the ballot measure is something we should all be paying attention to.
“Over our 200-plus-year history we have constantly striven to perfect ourselves as a nation.”
It’s part of a movement taking place across the country, Mittman says.
“America is moving forward. Just as we battled to win equality for women. Just as we fought to insure that all races are equal, we are now in the midst of a social progress forward to insure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are included as American.”
Whether Anchorage will join that movement will be determined on voting day, Tuesday, April 3.