It’s a new day in Anchorage. For the first time in the municipality’s history, it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


The Anchorage Assembly passed the controversial equal rights ordinance Tuesday night, but the debate that’s divided the muni is far from over. The ordinance became effective immediately, but it hadn’t even been in place for 24 hours before it was the topic of a debate hosted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Wednesday night.


“I’m distracted, I’m happy, I just wanna go play,” said Drew Phoenix, executive director of Identity, Inc. “It’s a great shift for me as a transgender man. I feel like a burden has been lifted. I really feel safer.”


The 9-2 vote by the Anchorage Assembly means that people can’t be fired or refused housing or service based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. But the decision came after long nights of public testimony, amendments and even debate between Assembly members.


“I feel that I identify closer to these folks in red, than I do with you folks right now,” said Assembly member Bill Starr Tuesday night as he left his seat, put on a red vest to match those opposing the ordinance and took the podium to tell the Assembly they’ve lost the people’s trust.


A day later, that debate continued at Bear Tooth Theatre. Two two-person teams debated the motion, “Individuals and organizations ought to be free to refuse service to patrons on the basis of religious objection.”


A pre-debate poll showed 31 percent of people in the audience agreed.


“We are not talking about someone’s very being and existence as we are when we talk about their gender or if they’re African American, we are talking about a behavior,” said Bernadette Wilson, host of KFQD’s Bernadette Live.


She joined Jim Minnery, with the Alaska Family Council, to form the team in favor of the motion.


“The reason we send people to the moon, the reason we found water on Mars, is because we give Americans the freedom to chart their own course in life,” said Josh Decker, Executive Director of ACLU Alaska, who joined Rev. Martin Eldred of Joy Lutheran Church as the team opposing the statement.


By the end of the evening, a second poll showed only 27-percent of the audience agreed that there should be a right to refuse service based on religious objection.


“The first question I had was, ‘Can I please talk to some of those people who changed their mind?'” Minnery said.


As president of the AFC, he’s against the ordinance, and many people believe he’ll push for a ballot initiative in April to fight it.


When KTVA asked him about his plans, he responded, “We’re gonna just think about it for a few days and we’ll make a decision here very soon.”


Phoenix says they’re prepared for that possibility, and in the meantime enjoying the legal protection from discrimination that they’ve fought for for so long.