Most people reading this post already know this: for the third time in 35 years, the Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance which prohibits discrimination within the municipality on the basis of sexual orientation. But the Assembly went one better than it did in 1976 and 1992: the ordinance also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Let’s hope that our newly minted mayor, Dan Sullivan, can also do the prior ordinances one better: by allowing this one to stand. The first ordinance, passed by a unanimous Assembly in 1976 shortly after the Municipality of Anchorage was formed (from the various governments located within the Greater Anchorage Area Borough), was vetoed by the Municipality’s first mayor, George Sullivan — our present mayor’s father — and after a pitched battle featuring many of the same pressure tactics employed by the followers of the same antigay leader we’ve seen in action this year, namely Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor Jerry Prevo, the then-Assembly was unable to override the veto. In 1992-1993, a stripped down version of an antidiscrimination ordinance was passed by a liberal Assembly, but most them lost their seats in the April 1993 municipal elections and the ordinance was promptly reversed by the conservatives who replaced them.
I’ve been present at all the six Assembly meetings this summer that have been devoted to public testimony on this ordinance — at least three of them all the way until their adjournment at 11:00 PM (or, later, in the case of the 6th and final night on July 21). This Tuesday’s meeting differed from all of them in that we finally got to hear from the Assembly members themselves, beyond whatever we might have gathered of their opinion on the ordinance from the questions or comments they made during public hearings.
There was little to surprise anyone in the votes of three of the Assembly members who ultimately voted against the ordinance — Dan Coffey, Chris Birch, and Bill Starr. Dan Coffey was, of course, behind resolution AR 2009-186, which called for a task force to study the issue for another year (or more) [Ref #1] — an idea which a number of people, including me last week [Ref #2], called a delay tactic. Coffey’s resolution was originally an early item on last night’s agenda, but early in the meeting was rescheduled to be discussed just before AO 64, which was a later agenda item. When it at length was discussed, Coffey stated (as quoted during my livetweeting last night) that he had written the resolution “not with an intent to delay or defer” – my ironic comment on that was “no, only by a year.” [Ref #3] But Coffey agreed that everyone seemed to prefer a vote on the question now, and seemed little put out when the Assembly not only refused to postpone consideration of it until after discussion of AO 64, but completely voted it down by a vote of 7 to 4. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Coffey making any comments on AO 64 itself during the course of the evening, except ultimately to register his vote against it. None of which surprised me: I hadn’t particularly noticed Coffey’s behavior during the long evenings of public testimony, but my blogging pals John Aronno and Heather Aronno both have observed his inattention, and have at various times speculated that maybe he was playing World of Warcraft [Ref #4] or solitaire on his iPhone [Ref#5] or reading magazines or books [Ref#6], instead of listening. I might live in Coffey’s district, but I’ve never had any sense that he in any way has ever “respresented” me on this or any other issue. Assembly members were far kinder in their assessment of what Coffey had attempted with the resolution; how much of that was sincere and how much of it the give and take of political etiquette is best left to judges other than me.
Although four versions of ordinance AO 64 have been drafted over the summer (see my post of yesterday comparing them [Ref #7]), the one which immediately was moved for discussion Tuesday night — no doubt after plenty of discussion between Assembly members over the past couple of weeks — was the S-2 substitution drafted most recently by Assemblyman Patrick Flynn. [Ref#8] Flynn explained how he had tried to clarify the language of the ordinance, including in the area of religious exemptions to protect religious organizations’ right to hire employees compatible with their religious values.
Sheila Selkregg spoke in support of Flynn’s version. As reported in the Anchorage Daily News,
Selkregg said Flynn’s version of the ordinance was “an effort to respect the religious community” that packed the Assembly’s chambers to oppose the proposal. “It allows churches to choose who they hire” in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, she said. [Ref #9]
In an hour of discussion that became surprisingly emotional, I think it’s the statement of Jennifer Johnston which moved me the most. Johnston began by discussing her unease that the ordinance had been brought from a national organization (an apparent reference to Alaska ACLU executive director Jeffrey Mittman’s role in helping shape the earliest version of the ordinance), then went on to describe a person close to her who had been influential in shaping her beliefs about public service — and who had, she believed, fit one of the personal characteristics contained in this ordinance. As reported by KTUU Channel 2 News,
“That person did more for his community, for the state and country than I could do in 10 lifetimes, but that person’s life was short, it was cut by suicide, and I’ve often wondered if that person had been born 60 years later if the outcome would have been different,” Johnston said. [Ref #10]
Johnston also mentioned Dave Rose, chair of the first Anchorage Municipal Assembly, who had been one of the Municipality’s early champions of equal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The ADN explains:
Because of Rose’s “memory and this other very special person, I am going to be voting in favor of this ordinance,” Johnston said. [Ref #9]
The next Assembly member to speak, Chris Birch, could hardly have been more different. He “didn’t see invidious discrimination” in Anchorage, and said “we’re a tolerant community.” He would be voting against the ordinance, he said. My own thought was that Birch must have been asleep on June 16 when a male witness, recounted his history of having being approached by men who were attracted to him– each instance punctuated by the man’s assertion that “I was unavailable” — and concluding with the admission that the last time he was approached by a man, he put that man in the hospital. I tweeted at the time, “What a coincidence, Ive been propositioned by men when I was unavailable too. I never beat any of them & sent them to the infirmary though.” [Ref #11] That was a point echoed in testimony I heard Herman Coen give the following night, June 17: the June 16 witness had violently assaulted, to the point of hospitalization, another person for nothing more than that person being sexually attracted to him — and when that witness had concluded his testimony, Coen observed, all the red-shirted ordinance opponents in the room had reacted as one: they applauded. Nope, a completely tolerant and nondiscriminatory community here, Mr. Birch. Not.
Mike Gutierrez spoke about the courage of people on both sides who testified during the six nights of public testimony. He also believed Assembly members had been getting to know each other better through this process, but said he’d had no idea about the feelings Jennifer Johnston had expressed, and that he hould have known of her feelings. S-2 was a good compromise, he said, and discrimination in his opinion is immoral: he was in support of the ordinance.
Patrick Flynn then spoke again, describing the mail carrier, Glen, who had delivered mail to his childhood home for years. More recently, Flynn related, Glen wrote him a note thanking him for what he was trying to do, but telling him that Glen himself had decided to retire to Asheville, NC — “a progressive city.” The implication seemed to be that in spite of efforts here in Anchorage, the prejudice here was too much for Glen to abide.
Matt Claman of course introduced the original version of AO 64 when he was Acting Mayor, and also introduced the first substitute version. His comments this night were brief: essentially, that he supported the ordinance, and hoped that Mayor Sullivan would as well.
Bill Starr sounded to me almost like a ringer for Chris Birch. He would not be supporting any version of AO 64. He saw no sign of sweeping discrimination, he said — no signs saying “No gays allowed” or “Lesbians to the back.” In any case, Starr said he felt things like this should be brought up by people, not the Assembly. He expressed his belief in God and his faith, and claimed to listen intently; but sorry, as with Chris Birch, I thought: he must’ve been asleep, not only through the June 16 admission by one ordinance opponent of having violently assaulted someone to the point of hospitalization, but all the other expressions of prejudice — with loaded words like “perversion” for example — that were repeated innumerable times throughout the past few weeks. But: it’s not like I was surprised.
Elvi Gray-Jackson is the other Assembly member in whose district I live. Unlike with Coffey, I feel represented by her. Unlike Coffey, she responded to the letter I sent her and Coffey on June 2 — not only reponded, but responded the very next day and with much warmth. She told me that she had always been a believer in equal rights for everyone, and that it would be her honor to “do the right thing” by voting in favor of AO 64. Since then, I’ve seen no sign of her wavering in that belief and commitment; and Tuesday night I learned part of why. She wouldn’t speak long, she said, because this was an emotional issue for her; her nephew is gay, and if I heard rightly, his mother — her sister? — died in her arms when he was still fairly young. Her plea was for the Assembly “to simply do the right thing and allow all of us to live in this community without discrimination.” [Ref #9]
Assembly Vice-Chair Harriet Drummond recounted a several-year history of dealing with sexual orientation issues on the Anchorage School Board, beginning with an intiative by students at Dimond High School to form a gay/straight alliance. Now there are gay/straight alliances in every Anchorage high school, and Anchorage School District has had a nondiscrimination policy with regard to sexual orientation since, I believe she said, about 2001. ASD is obligated to serve every student who enters the schools, she declared, and can’t afford to discriminate; and she was unwilling to discrminate against those same students after they’d graduated from school.
Added 7/13/09: I just remembered that Drummond also stated that she had several cases of sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination that she could have brought to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, if the ordinance were already in effect.
The last Assembly member then to explain her position was Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander. It was pretty quickly apparent to me that Ossiander, who had been calm, firm, and professional in her chairing of this meeting — as indeed all the other Assembly meetings I’ve attended — was feeling some distress. She was coughing a lot to begin with, as though she’d swallowed something down the wrong way; but I had the feeling it was emotional as much as physical: that’s how much conflict this ordinance had brought up for her. She gave a fairly lengthy account of the efforts she’d made to speak to people she respected on both sides of the issue, to read a lot, to learn what data is available on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, and to learn what other provisions other localities have with regard to discrimination.
She asserted her strong belief in protecting citizens, but found it troublesome that this version of the ordinance (none of them, actually) doesn’t stop people from being nasty (not the word she used, but certainly the sentiment) toward each other, of making them civil. I was confused by this complaint — she brought it up so strongly that it seemed almost to be what she considered its fatal flaw; and yet, I can’t think of any legislation that can require civility and mutual respect — nor indeed is that what we are asking for, in asking for equal protection from discrimination. I can only guess that this was how Ossiander was expressing her own unease with the unpleasantness and contentiousness of much of what she — and we — have heard these past few weeks. My guts have been twisted far too much by some of the ugliness I’ve heard — maybe she’s felt some of that too, especially since she, as both Assembly member and chair, has been getting a lot of pressure from both sides over what she, personally, should decide.
I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed by her continuing reference to transvestites. Especially after all the reading she’d said she done, did she not yet understand the fundamental difference between transvestites — not covered by this ordinance — and transsexual and transgender people — which the ordinance would protect. But in the end, I think her incorrect use of the terminology might also have been a signal of her agitation in deciding what to do with this issue.
Ossiander went on to identify other things she regarded as troublesome things in this version of the ordinance. For example, she was concerned that businesses might be forced to build new bathrooms. (Here’s another area where she again used the term transvestites when the S-2 version of the ordinance cleary refers to pre and post-operative transsexuals and transgendered people.)
In the end, despite what appeared to be her strong-held belief “that there are some citizens that need more protection than we’re giving them,” Ossiander nonetheless concluded:
This is a hurtful thing to do and I’m trying not to look at certain people in the audience right now, but I’m not going to be supporting this. [Ref #13]
At this point, Sheila Selkregg moved an amendment which stated that nothing “in this chapter” (i.e., in the chapter of the Anchorage Muncipal Code where the ordinance, if passed, would be encoded) should be construed to force businesses to build new bathrooms to “accomodate sexual orientation or gender identity,” and moved another, similar amendment with nearly identical language at another point in the ordinance — I didn’t catch exactly where, but I’m sure I’ll find out when I take a look at the final version of the ordinance. Both of these amendments were incorporated into the ordinance. The question at that point was whether the amendments would be sufficient to satisfy Ossiander’s doubts enough to change her stand on support of the ordinance.
Just prior to the vote, Mike Gutierrez made a statement complimenting Ossiander on her handling of the job of Assembly chair throughout this contentious debate, and all the Assembly members rose to applaud her, with the audience spontaneously rising to join in a standing ovation. I was in the third row from the front, and never turned around, so I didn’t learn until later that the (predominately red-shirted) ordinance opponents either did not join in the ovation at all (by one account), or did so belatedly and grudgingly (by another). John Aronno of Alaska Commons (who was sitting two seats away from me):
Tonight, Chairwoman Ossiander delivered a pained and thorough explanation of why she truly felt that she could not vote in support of this ordinance, which leaves a possible veto override one vote short. When Assemblyman Mike Gutierrez thanked her for her service to the assembly and for the way she handled these proceedings, she received applause and a standing ovation.
… By the group whom she was voting against.
Turning around in my chair, I saw, if not entirely, a clear majority of red-shirted attendees sitting with their arms crossed. [Ref #14]
Just before the final vote was tallied, Assemblyman Guttierrez took a few moments to praise Assemblywoman Ossiander for her contributions as chair and moderator during the many hearings. Though many have disagreed with her decision to allow non residents to testify at the hearings, Ms. Ossiander kept the peace and dealt fairly with each person who testified during those many, painful long hours. The crowd stood up and rendered to her enthusiastic applause, and I must note that those wearing blue shirts stood up first with a good portion of those in red shirts reluctantly following suit. Ms. Ossiander smiled very gratefully, and seemed genuinely surprised. [Ref #13]
But at the time, I only knew that I was joining in the ovation against my own disagreement with Ossiander over her having permitted non-Anchorage residents, bused or carpooled in from the Mat-Su, to testify (see my post on it [Ref #16]), but that other than that disagreement I did in fact respect the evenhanded way she’d handled some really difficult meetings. And I saw that she was moved by the tribute, even as she was embarrassed by it, modestly gesturing with her hand for people to resume their seats.
And then the vote was taken. Despite the amendments, Ossiander’s doubts had not apparently been answered. The final result: the S-2 version of ordinance AO 2009-64, as amended, passed by a vote of 7-4. If Mayor Sullivan should decide to veto the ordinance, a supermajority of 8 members will need to vote to override.
Then we milled around for a few minutes, and then most people left, and the Assembly sat down in chambers to conduct more of the Municipality’s business.
Votes against the ordinance: Dan Coffey, Chris Birch, Bill Starr, Debbie Ossiander.
Votes in favor of the ordinance: Patrick Flynn, Sheila Selkregg, Jennifer Johnston, Mike Gutierrez, Matt Claman, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Harriet Drummond. Thank you. Thank all of you.
Thanks also to everyone who testified, wrote letters, made phone calls, and otherwise stood up for equal protection from discrimination for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transgenders.
Thank you to all of you who are continuing to do so now by calling or writing Mayor Dan Sullivan and asking him to do one better than with the prior two attempts: let this one stand.
August 11, 2009 Assembly meeting: the slideshow
- AR NO. 2009–186. “A resolution of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly authorizing a citizen task force to review the nature and extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation and the potential for conflict with constitutional rights.” Submitted by Assembly Member Dan Coffey for reading August 11, 2009.
- 8/7/09. “Delay by “task force”: My testimony to the Anchorage Assembly” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- 8/11/09. “The Daily Tweets, 2009-08-11: Anchorage equal rights ordinance passes 7-4″ by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- 6/10/09. “Eleven Hours in a Library; the City Assembly Meeting on Equal Rights Ordinance” by John Aronno (Alaska Commons).
- 8/9/09. “Looking back to the future” by Heather Aronno (SOSAnchorage.net).
- 7/21/09. “Let the circus begin!” by Heather Aronno (SOSAnchorage.net).
- 8/11/09. “What’s on the table: Anchorage equal rights ordinance” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- AO No. 2009-64 (S-2). Third substitution version submitted by Assembly Member Patrick Flynn, for reading August 11, 2009.
- 8/11/09. “Assembly OKs gay rights ordinance 7-4 — COMPROMISE: Exemptions for religious organizations written into the ban on discrimination” by Don Hunter (Anchorage Daily News).
- 8/11/09. “Anchorage Assembly passes anti-discrimination ordinance” by Jason Lamb (KTUU Channel 2 News).
- 6/16/09. “Liveblogging Assembly meeting, June 16 (Assembly public hearing #2)” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- 6/2/09. “My letter to the Anchorage Assembly” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).
- 8/12/09. “The Anchorage Assembly Passes Ordinance 64, Version S-2 Amended” by Jeannette (Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis).
- 8/12/09. “AO 2009-64 (S2) Passes. Make It Stick!” by John Aronno (Alaska Commons).
- 6/19/09. “Debbie Ossiander & the Christianist filibuster” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa.com).