The Juneau Assembly heard nearly unanimous support for a proposed ordinance that would protect people from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in a committee meeting Tuesday evening.
Thirty people testified on the ordinance, including Rev. Sue Bahleda of the Resurrection Lutheran Church.
Her testimony focused on the importance of belonging.
“We are straight or gay, lesbian or transgender, we belong here, we belong in our workplaces, we belong in our apartments and homes,” Bahleda said.
The proposed ordinance would create a new, local equal rights law. Unlike the state’s law, Juneau’s would include gender identity and sexual orientation.
It would protect the two classes from discrimination in local businesses, employment, education, housing and public accommodations, like hotels. The ordinance also includes some religious and tribal exemptions.
People from the LGBT community, allies, local business people and clergy shared personal stories in the hopes of highlighting its importance.
The first to speak was Mark Hutter, who shared that he always felt welcome growing up in Juneau, but said he was recently fired from his job for being gay.
“You can’t make someone accept someone that is different from them,” Hutter said, “but you can provide protections for individuals like me who face discrimination when all we want to do is work hard and pay the bills.”
More than 60 people crowded into the Assembly Chambers for the public hearing that lasted nearly two hours.
Kristen Bomegen, who identifies as a lesbian, said she’s lived in Juneau since the ‘80s. She focused her testimony on her experiences with housing discrimination, sharing her experiences with eviction.
“The second eviction was from a four-month sublet, and when I had occasion to a complain about the noise from another neighbor, and I was told that ‘If you don’t like it here, I don’t want you here, I don’t like your lifestyle,” Bomegan said. “And I, of course, wanted to say, ‘Well you can’t do that.’ But she could. And she still can.”
State law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes.
But cities continue to expand protections. If Juneau’s ordinance passes, it will become the second city after Anchorage to provide discrimination protection for the LGBT community in housing, private employment and businesses.
For now, the Juneau Assembly members recommended clarifications to the ordinance’s language, which will be discussed again next month.