In early May, one of our partners in the business community went to a local restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska for lunch. After being seated, they noticed an offensive, transphobic adage scrawled on the chalkboard: “Transvestite: A Guy Who Likes to Eat, Drink, and Be Mary.”
“Who would want to do business here if this is how customers are received?” they wondered, and took a picture of the sign.
Not entirely sure how to move forward, they contacted Drew Phoenix, the executive director of Identity; the only statewide LGBTQ education and advocacy organization in Alaska. After an unsuccessful attempt at negotiating with the business owner and manager, Drew reached out to Pride Foundation and two local businesses we collaborate with through our 1+1 Alaska Initiative—Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.
Both AEDC and the Downtown Partnership felt it would be more meaningful if the establishment was contacted by other local businesses. In less than 24 hours, the restaurant changed the message on their chalkboard.
This incident served as a powerful example of how collaboration and partnerships with local businesses can help advance our work, and support our community. The dismay I felt after seeing the sign was quickly replaced with hope after Anchorage business leaders stepped up to the plate and sent a resounding message that transphobic language has no place in our community.
Pride Foundation and Identity will continue working with local businesses as part of 1+1 Alaska to ensure that everyone in our community is protected from discrimination. The next phase of our work includes compiling and sharing a guidebook of Anchorage businesses that have inclusive business practices. We’ll keep you posted as this important work moves forward.
For Drew, the learnings were two-fold; “First,” he shared, “this shows that business people in Alaska care that our community is inclusive. And second, that the leaders in the business community have an important role in creating that inclusive environment.”
While leaders of LGBTQ organizations will always have a role to play in responding to and addressing similar situations, Drew notes that “there’s nothing like that peer-to-peer relationship” between businesses.
Josh Hemsath is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Alaska. Email Josh.