(En)gender Compassion

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Photo credit: Sarah Manriquez

Protecting an individual’s right to work and housing is the primary purpose of SB 72, a bill aimed to protect the rights of people regardless of gender or sexual orientation that continues to fail in the Alaska Senate. There are 18 states across the U.S. that “clearly prohibit discrimination against transgender people,” according to the ACLU.

Alaska is not one of them.

The Alaska Senate Health and Social Services Committee was recently reviewing SB 72, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the powers and duties of the State Commission for Human Rights. So many people showed up to testify at the first public hearing on March 31 that verbal testimony was shortened from three minutes to two minutes and a second hearing was scheduled for April 10.

One of those who testified at the first hearing of SB 72 was Hayden Nevill, local social justice activist and creator of Gender Pioneers, a transgender peer to peer support group here in Fairbanks.

“Alaskans are an accepting bunch. Even really conservative Alaskans have been accepting of me but there are a few bad apples who want to discriminate against us and who would do us harm,” Nevill said as part of his public testimony of SB 72.

Despite over two thirds of the public testimony received as of April 10 supporting the bill, only two of five committee senators showed up to the second hearing, forcing the hearing to be cancelled. If there is little public outcry, the bill will be shelved again.

Versions of SB 72 have been submitted to the Health and Social Services Committee multiple times over the past five years, the last in January of 2015. None have made it out of the committee and onto the senate floor.

In 2015 the National Center for Transgender Equality surveyed over 28,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States. That study, the largest and most comprehensive view of the experiences of trans people, investigated levels of discrimination, harassment, poverty and health across the trans community.

Of those 28,000 people 30 percent reported being mistreated at their workplace, denied a promotion or even fired due to their gender identity or expression at some point in the previous year.

Another man who went to testify in support of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the purview of the State Commission for Human Rights reported that after being pictured celebrating marriage equality in a local paper a potential landlord refused to rent a cabin to him because he wasn’t comfortable with “people like him,” an employer said he was looking for “a different kind of employee” and an academic adviser tried to convince him to switch from engineering to gender studies.

Gender Pioneers, the peer to peer support group Nevill began in 2012, provides a space for transgender, genderqueer or gender questioning individuals and their allies around Fairbanks with a space to share their stories, find a community and build the strength to face and to maybe change how our society views gender.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality survey, while 1.6 percent of the U.S. population has attempted suicide, over 40 percent of transgender Americans have attempted suicide. Gender Pioneers hopes to lower that statistic by providing a safe space where those who don’t fit strictly male or female from birth can find support even when the state they live in doesn’t.

You can learn more about Gender Pioneers on their facebook page. Students wishing to comment on Senate Bill 72, adding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the powers and duties of the State Commission for Human Rights, can call Committee Chair Senator David Wilson at 907-465-3878.

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