Last September, local mother Cathy Gillis testified in front of a crowded Anchorage Assembly Chamber, sharing the story of when her son came out to her as transgender. Detailing her shock and confusion, Cathy explained that—even though it rocked her world—she realized that, “his gender identity does not affect his kindness, his work ethic, or his compassion.”
For the last few decades, the Anchorage Assembly has considered numerous anti-discrimination bills, which would make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
During her testimony, Cathy recalled memories of growing up and fishing, hunting, and scaling mountains around Alaska—she moved to Anchorage with her husband in hopes of starting a family here. Cathy reflected on her experience raising a family in Anchorage. Living here, she learned the importance of making the community a better place to live and work, and has always strived to instill these same values in her children.
For Cathy’s transgender son, that value carried the same level of importance. “My son’s gender identity shouldn’t affect his ability to live, work, and grow in the community he calls home. He doesn’t have the same protections as me, you, or your own children,” she remarked.
Ultimately, the powerful stories of Cathy and so many others inspired the Assembly to vote in support of the ordinance, 9-2.
Barely two months later, a small group led by former conservative talk show host Bernadette Wilson filed paperwork to repeal Anchorage’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance 96 by ballot measure. Though it is unknown which upcoming ballot the measure will appear on, opponents of equality have made clear that they plan to gather the signatures necessary to put the measure before voters.
Consequently, Anchorage voters will soon face a choice: keep the recently passed, fully-inclusive Anchorage Non-Discrimination Ordinance 96 that extends basic anti-discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or repeal the ordinance.
If their efforts are successful, Anchorage will go back to a time when someone could be fired, denied housing, or turned away at a business simply because of who they are or whom they love. These are not Alaskan values.
Because we refuse to let our community’s hard-won rights be taken away, Pride Foundation, along with many other community partners, including Christians For Equality, Alaskans Together for Equality, the ACLU of Alaska, and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, launched Fair Anchorage. Fair Anchorage is educating voters about the importance of this non-discrimination ordinance and why we need to preserve it.
Meanwhile, Identity, Inc.—Alaska’s statewide LGBT education and advocacy organization—has launched a public education campaign. Identity’s outreach informing Alaskans about their transgender neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers in Anchorage is important because a 2015 GLAAD study on transgender visibility found that only 16% of Americans say they know someone who is transgender.
Together, these efforts are positively shaping how people in Alaska interact within our community—raising public awareness and showing our LGBTQ family and friends that they have a community of support standing behind them.
But we will not be successful without your support and engagement. Please sign the pledge, share your story, volunteer, or contribute to the campaign by visiting www.fairanchorage.org.
Josh Hemsath is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Josh.