UPDATE: Voting postponed on equal rights ordinance as public testimony continues
Update: Sept. 16, 2015 at 5:23 p.m.
Anchorage Assembly members have postponed voting on a controversial equal rights ordinance until Sept. 29, according to Assembly Chair Dick Traini.
The continued Anchorage Assembly hearing for AO 2015-95 and AO 2015-96 on Wednesday began with a warning from Traini, reminding those in the audience to refrain from cheering or booing during the public testimony portion of the meeting.
“We know this is an emotionally charged item, so whether you agree or disagree with somebody, just be respectful and listen quietly,” said Assembly member Amy Demboski.
Traini likened the hearing to a courtroom, stating individuals would be removed if they failed to maintain order.
A number of municipal residents signed up to testify on the ordinance during the regular assembly meeting Tuesday night, but many were unable to due to lack of time. Along with a number of individuals from the first meeting, 30 others signed up on Wednesday to speak as well.
Public comment on the measure will be closed after Wednesday’s meeting.
Update: Sept. 15, 2015 at 6:23 p.m.
“Discrimination is not a Christian value.”
United Methodist Reverend Andy Bartel, of Anchorage, began public testimony with that sentiment, one that was shared by many in line behind him. He and others claiming the Christian faith encouraged the Anchorage Assembly to support proposed ordinance AO 2015-96 as a show of equality for all Anchorage residents despite their sexual preference or gender identity.
Kal Bacon, a 22-year-old Anchorage transgender man who “came out” to his family and friends within the last year, also supported the measure.
“To my friends, being trans didn’t matter. It’s just another fact about me, along with the fact that I’m a huge Superman fan,” Bacon testified before the assembly. “In the eyes of my loved ones, I’m still the same person, regardless of gender identity. I’m still a person that matters. My hope is that today we can get a law passed that all trans people will be given rights that we deserve, not only as American citizens, but also as human beings.”
Amber Sawyer highlighted several obstacles she and others in the LGBTQ community have faced. She explained to assembly members the difficulties she faced as a wife and mother who does not have the same rights as other wives and mothers in certain circumstances, including being denied access to her wife or children in medical emergencies because they are not considered legally related in Alaska.
Sawyer also testified to losing her job with the state of Alaska because of complaints filed against her after one of her coworkers discovered her sexual preference.
“Even when the labor union got involved and asked, ‘how many were filed? Who filed what? What exactly was filed?’ Every single one of the complaints was filed by the one employee that saw me sitting with my daughter and my wife having lunch,” Sawyer explained. “They came just to see me. We weren’t anywhere near my office, I was not on the clock, but it impacted my work very heavily.”
However, opponents of the measure said there’s no need for change.
“What you do in your bedroom should stay in your bedroom, it should not be part of your job requirement, it should not be the reason that they deny you a job,” said Shirley Smith, of Anchorage.
Smith also cited a newspaper article on a similar ordinance proposed in 2012 that was voted down, demanding to know why the assembly was “ignoring” the votes of municipality residents.
In a similar vein to Smith, Chugiak resident and retired nurse Mary Stouffer asked the assembly to consider how making sexual preference and gender identity protected groups would affect those who do not believe it is anything more than a choice.
“Now we have people of faith being beaten into submission, to the point where government… will toss our Bible into the book fire. Tolerance is not enough — we must agree and endorse the left’s narrative that if we don’t like the Bible, we can edit it or burn it,” Stouffer testified. “The left is trying to legislate that we are not merely accepting and kind, but that we bless and then participate in their behavior.”
A continued hearing will be held Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m.
ANCHORAGE – Anchorage Assembly members are preparing to take public testimony on a new equal rights ordinance that would ban discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a battle that’s been going on for years but Assemblyman Bill Evans thinks this time the ordinance may pass.
“I think the community in general wants to get this issue behind it and will want to deal with it in a way that is respectful to everyone’s rights,” Evans said.
Evans supports a compromise ordinance the assembly will consider Tuesday night. In it, the only exceptions to the new protections are for religious institutions who hire clergy or religious teachers.
“It requires, in order to be exempt, that part of the duties of that person have to be the teaching and the professing of the faith so people who are just clerical, secretaries, janitors, support staff would not be exempt and the equal rights protections would apply to them as well,” Evans explained.
The ordinance has some familiar opposition. Jim Minnery, head of a Christian non-profit organization says he doesn’t think the ordinance is needed.
“We think people’s deeply held convictions regarding how they operate their businesses and their ministries shouldn’t be trampled on by an unnecessary ordinance, ” Minnery said.
Minnery says he knew of no specific instances of widespread discrimination against people in the LGBT community and didn’t think legal protections were necessary.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.
KTVA 11’s Lauren Maxwell, Daniella Rivera and Shannon Kemp contributed to this report.
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