Alaska Human Rights Commission proposes regulation changes to protect LGBTQ community

Marti Buscaglia is the director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. She took over the agency in May 2016. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage)
Marti Buscaglia is the director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. She took over the agency in May 2016. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Alaska’s Human Rights Commission is taking steps to legally protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. Last week it passed a resolution that would interpret sex discrimination to include gender identity and sexual orientation. That’s the interpretation used by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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Kathryn Dodge, the acting chair of the commission, said the regulation changes could be examined by a legislative committee but would not require approval by the state legislature.

“The brilliance of this resolution was we actually have power to do this without the Legislature,” she said.

The commission’s lawyers will draft regulation changes that will be reviewed by the Department of Law, Dodge said. Then there will be a public comment period.

“This really is about starting a conversation around the state. We don’t get to just, as a commission, say this is what we think and go do it,” she said. “We’re developing regulations, and there’s requirements for public comment all the way along.”

It also has to be approved by the governor’s office.

Commission Executive Director Marti Buscaglia said the interpretation of the regulations would be similar to the non-discrimination ordinances that already passed in Anchorage and Juneau. She said it would make state law more closely reflect changing social views.

“Same sex marriages are taking place but yet you can go to work and be discriminated against for having a same-sex partner and that just feels wrong,” she said.

The resolution also asks the Legislature to pass a bill that would protect people based on gender identity and sexual orientation, Dodge said, but she doesn’t think they would take it up this year. This resolution offers an alternative path to providing protections, she said.