Juneau Assembly passes long-awaited equal rights ordinance

More than 70 people crowded into the Juneau assembly chambers Monday in support of an equal rights ordinance.

An Alaska Pride flag. The image is based on a double-faced eagle design from Alaska before Russian contact. (Creative Commons photo by Mel Green)
An Alaska Pride flag. The image is based on a double-faced eagle design from Alaska before Russian contact. (Creative Commons photo by Mel Green)

With an 8-1 vote, the Juneau Assembly adopted the ordinance.

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The ordinance takes effect in 30 days and protects against discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

Freda Westman spoke in support of the ordinance on behalf of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

“It takes all of us working together (to) do what is right, to have equal protection. If not all of us are protected, then none of us are protected, and it’s important that it’s passed.”

The Rev. Phil Campbell from the Northern Light United Church also expressed his support.

“It was Theodore Parker and later Martin Luther King Jr. who said that the arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice. I humbly submit that by the passage of the equal rights ordinance that you will facilitate more bending toward justice and equality for all people.”

Community members wearing large buttons with the word “Yes” over the pride flag filled the room, but the ordinance wasn’t without its critics.

Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis voted against the 15-page ordinance. He said he didn’t disagree with the intent, but said there are problems with its execution. He said some aspects dealing with accessibility could increase a landlord’s costs. Some facilities may be forced to rent to, he suggested, Satanic groups. He also said offhand remarks could make people liable for aiding or abetting discrimination.

“My concern with supporting this and the way it’s written, and as lengthy as it is–would be that I would fall into the sand trap that I always talk about, which is the ends justifying the means, and I just can’t do it (with) the way it’s structured right now.”

Tom Williams was one of two community members who spoke in opposition to the ordinance.

“The premise of this ordinance is that only those in the protected classes need to be insulated from unlawful behavior when in fact, abuses can occur on both sides of the transaction.”

The ordinance doesn’t create a city agency or group that will monitor discrimination. Instead, it allows community members to take legal action if they feel they’ve experienced discrimination.

Anchorage is the only other Alaska city that has these protections for private citizens.