Homo / News
Meanwhile in Alaska: Anchorage's Summer of Hate
by Dan Savage
on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 7:36 AM
This post is by Brendan Joel Kelley.
On Monday, August 17, our newly elected mayor—conservative Dan Sullivan (it's a non-partisan office, so D and R don't apply)—vetoed a gay rights ordinance that the Anchorage Assembly had voted 7-4 to approve on Tuesday, August 11. Although the veto expected from Sullivan, it came as a blow to those committed to making Anchorage a progressive city like many of its West Coast counterparts.
Proposition 64, which would have added gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the city's current anti-discrimination ordinance, protecting them from discrimination in the sale or rental of property, financing practices, employment practices, public accommodations, educational institutions, and practices of the municipality, was introduced on May 12 by then-Acting Mayor Matt Claman, an uncharismatic assemblyman who temporarily succeeded former Mayor Mark Begich after Begich was elected as a Democratic U.S. Senator in November. During Claman's brief tenure—January through June—the gay rights proposition was the only notable move he made.
The introduction of the proposition precipitated a series of antagonistic hearings at the bi-weekly assembly meetings. It divided our community into bible-thumping, fag bashing “red shirts”—convinced that there's already an epidemic of cross-dressing men pissing and perving in ladies rooms—and the more pacifist “blue shirts,” who were more prone to dancing to techno DJs on the lawn outside than having their pre-teen children hoist hateful signs. Opposition to the ordinance was led by notorious asshole Jerry Prevo, a local televangelist and pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, one of the largest churches in Anchorage. Prevo canceled his services one Wednesday night so his followers could flood the special assembly meeting that was called to accommodate the surge of citizens wanting to testify about the ordinance (some acquaintances of mine advocated for taking advantage of the empty ABT and hosting a gay orgy in its parking lot).
The chair of the Anchorage assembly, conservative Debbie Ossiander, allowed people to sign up for months to testify before the assembly—and you didn't have to be a resident of Anchorage, so lots of people were bussed in from Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla (guess what color shirts they wore)—and after several meetings it seemed to be a virtual red shirt filibuster.
Outside the assembly chambers both sides loudly voiced their opinions—the red shirts with signs such as “when the ‘Gay Agenda’ destroys Civil Liberties everyone loses!!!” and “I was born black you choose 2B gay”; the blue shirts fought back with community potlucks, virtual raves on the lawn, and rainbow colored signs declaring their allegiance to equality. Conservative talk radio personalities railed against the ordinance as well, declaring that it provided “special rights” for the gay and transgender community—in a column last Sunday in the daily newspaper, one of those talking heads compared homosexuals to habitual swearers. (Creative analogy, fucker.)
Nonetheless, the assembly, which is split 6-5 in favor of progressives (including Claman, now returned to his assembly seat), passed the ordinance last week, but with the support of only one conservative, South Anchorage Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston. Ossiander, the chair, had been a wild card. There was hope that she'd put a little compassion in her conservatism, but she ultimately voted against the proposition. The assembly could possibly override the mayor's veto within 21 days with an 8th vote, but proponents on the assembly don't expect Ossiander to change her vote.
The proposition is the most contentious civil rights issue in the city of Anchorage since the last time the issue of gay rights came before city government in the '90s (a similar proposition passed in 1990, but was repealed in 1993). Prior to that, Mayor Sullivan's father, Mayor George Sullivan, vetoed a similar ordinance in 1975. The younger Sullivan assumed office on July 1, and was widely expected by his conservative constituents to veto this ordinance if the assembly passed it, although the political gossip was that he wanted nothing to do with this issue. The pro-gay rights coalition of businesses, churches, and political organizations, along with the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties, known as Equality Works, held out hope that Sullivan would let the assembly's vote stand.
But Sullivan replaced a popular Democrat in the largest city in our notoriously red state (see: Palin, Sarah), and has to be Super-Glued to his conservative base if he ever hopes to win reelection (or replace Begich as a U.S. senator; Begich is the first Dem congressional delegate Alaska's had since wacky ol' Senator Mike Gravel, who lost his seat in 1981). Sullivan said on Friday that feedback since the assembly passed the ordinance had been three-to-one in favor of him vetoing it, and the press release announcing his veto said he'd received nearly 2,500 communications regarding the ordinance.
“As elected officials," Sullivan said in his press release, "we are charged with reflecting the will of the community in our decisions, particularly in the absence of compelling data that would supersede that will.”
It's now expected that Equality Works and supporters of including GLBT people in the city's anti-discrimination ordinance will pursue an initiative to put the issue on the ballot for the next municipal election next April. Proponents of gay rights are hopeful that the electorate in Anchorage support the definition of diversity that still appears on the city's website: “Diversity in this Administration’s book means, in addition to differences based on ethnicity, gender, age, religion, disability, national origin and sexual orientation...” But since Prevo and his red shirt brigade were standing at the ready to launch their own initiative removing gay rights from the anti-discrimination ordinance if Sullivan hadn't vetoed it, it's hard to predict what'll happen when the voters hit the polls.
As I type this, friends of mine are rallying outside of City Hall in downtown Anchorage expressing their disdain for the mayor's veto; a gay friend on his way to work at one of our few gay bars in town just called, upset, and asked me what he could do. I had to honestly answer that I have no idea.