Diversity, unity, family

I learned midway through Tuesday that KTVA Channel 11 would be interviewing Heather Aronno of SOSAnchorage.net (the factchecker alternative to Prevo’s poisonous homophobe site) about the True Diversity Dinner.  (Good job, Heather!) KTVA also interviewed the Anchorage Assembly member from my district who represents me, Elvi Gray-Jackson, as well as the Assembly member from my district who doesn’t represent me, Dan Coffey.  And also one of Alaska’s top progressive bloggers, Shannyn Moore.  The story on the True Diversity Dinner and the Mayor’s Unity Dinner (which used to be a Diversity Dinner until Mayor Sullivan got hold of it) was the first story on Tuesday evening’s news broadcast from KTVA.

True Diversity Dinner Announced on KTVA

You can also read the text version of the story on KTVA’s website. [Ref #1]

Shortly after I learned Heather was being interviewed, a query popped up in my email from Alaska Dispatch‘s Maia Nolan.  She asked me if I’d be willing to respond to two comments she’d received from the Mayor’s office about the dinners, as follows:

Sullivan spokesperson Sarah Erkmann:

No comment beyond that planning for the Unity Dinner continues with the mayor’s full support. It should be noted that funds raised at the dinner support the municipality’s diversity programming throughout the year. So withholding support for the event may have an adverse impact on the city’s ability to fund programs next year. The mayor has continually said that he thinks the values that bind us together are just as important as what separates us. The phrase I’ve heard him use is ‘respect diversity, celebrate unity.’

(The full text of Sarah Erkmann’s copy is in the story Maia Nolan filed.  The above is just the portion I got in the email.)

Mayor Dan Sullivan (from press release):

Our community is made up of many unique groups, but we all share some common values: the importance of family, quality education for our children, and safe, vibrant neighborhoods. This year’s event is meant to celebrate these values while respecting the diversity that makes Anchorage such a great place to live.

I replied as follows:

I’m speaking only as myself, but I think the others involved with the alternative True Diversity Dinner would agree with me that we have no argument with the Municipality’s diversity programming.  Nor are we asking for anyone to withhold support if they choose to attend the Unity Dinner.  But a lot of us find there to be a pretty big discrepancy between Mayor Sullivan’s veto of an ordinance which would have accorded equal protection from discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans citizens and visitors to Anchorage, and his supposed valuation of diversity.  I’m not sure who chose the Unity Dinner’s keynote speaker, Lynn Swann, but to me that choice underscores that that reference to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the muni’s diversity statement is, at least this year, lip service — Swann during his 2006 run for governor of Pennsylvania endorsed an amendment to PA’s constitution that would have prevented same-sex couples from  having the same rights — medical, marriage, estate — as heterosexual couples.

The result of this is, many of us who fought for equal rights for LGBT people in Anchorage — and that includes non-LGBT as well as LGBT people — don’t see much place for LGBTs or their allies as either individuals or as families in the Mayor’s vision of diversity. Several of us bloggers who had written a lot over the summer about the Assembly hearings started talking about how to respond to our feelings after the mayor’s veto of ordinance 64.  We decided that holding some kind of protest wouldn’t actually make us feel any better.  So we decided instead to celebrate the values we’d been fighting for.

Me with my family at the 1997 Alaska State Fair

Me with my family at the 1997 Alaska State Fair

I very much share the values Sullivan named: “the importance of family, quality education for our children, and safe, vibrant neighborhoods.” My partner and I raised her nephew from age 9 to the present (age 21) — a kid, I might add, whose entire life before he came to live with us was one of physical and emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of his (heterosexual) family.  I was the main economic support for my family; if my employer had decided to fire me simply for being a lesbian, not only would I suffer, but so would that boy.  Lucky for me that my employer didn’t.  But that’s a prospect that many families headed by LGBT people still face.  Sullivan’s veto makes it clear that he only deems some families important — and mine’s not one of them.  So much for “unity.”

I’m really glad that I’ll be in company on the night of the 25th with people who do think my family’s important. [Ref #2; emphases added]

I will add here that I once was, in fact, fired for being a lesbian. Part of my story was aired when I took my own turn being interviewed by KTVA last May, after the Anchorage equal rights ordinance AO 2009-64 was introduced in the Anchorage Assembly; I gave a more complete account in a followup blog post. At the time I was fired in 1984, I had no family to support — just myself. But discrimination still happens — as Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander herself admitted when she voted against the ordinance on August 11 — and some of the people who are discriminated against do have families that they support, along with themselves. Not to mention that all of us, LGBT or not, are the children of mothers and fathers, the siblings of brothers and sisters. Don’t kid yourself that anti-LGBT discrimination is about “family values”: it’s about the devaluation and ostracization of members of people’s families and, in some cases, of entire families.

So much for “unity.” So much for the “Unity Dinner.”

The True Diversity Dinner will be held on September 25, 2009 at 7:30 PM at the Snow Goose Restaurant in downtown Anchorage. Tickets for the dinner are $10.00 and can be purchased at Borders Books & Music. We hope to have a midtown venue selling tickets soon; see the True Diversity Dinner blog for updates.


  1. 9/15/09. “Controversy Brews between ‘Diversity’ & ‘Unity’” by Christina Grande (KTVA Channel 11 News) (misdated on KTVA’s website as 9/4/09).
  2. 9/15/09. “More on the dueling diversity dinners” by Maia Nolan (Alaska Dispatch).
  3. 5/13/09. “Channel 11 interview, part 1 (the video)” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa).
  4. 5/13/09. “Channel 11 interview, part 2 (the full story)” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa).

This entry was posted in Ordinance, True Diversity Dinner and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.