Gay rights and Alaska Republican Caucus spark discussion
Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Reporter
March 5, 2013
Gun laws, women’s rights and welfare have been at the forefront of American political discussion for the past year. These issues, which some argue are basic human rights, have garnered debate and influenced policy. Gay rights is not an exception, even in Alaska.
Last month, on Friday, Feb. 15, some Republican Caucus members broke into laughter after Juneau Empire reporter Mark Miller asked a question about the possibility of gay civil unions being recognized in Alaska. Miller’s question was based on a February Public Policy Poll. In the poll, only 30 percent of Alaskans voters were against the legal recognition of gay civil unions. The PPP also found that only 40 percent of voters were in favor of the legalization of gay marriage.
The numbers were based on the November state election.
“It shows you where the state of Alaska is centered,” said Eran Eads, a 21-year-old English student and member of the UAF GSA. “And they’re centered so far to the right that even just the idea of same sex couples being a legitimate issue was laughed at.”
After the laughter, House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt said that the issue was not something they had discussed. “What’s important about this caucus is that we’ve focused on the things that have really allowed people to have a great life,” Pruitt said. “We didn’t have a discussion here about what happens inside your home.”
“At first it was just shock, that they did that, that they were just laughing,”said Kayt Sundwood, Director of the UAF Women’s Center about her initial reaction to the video.
“I felt personally scorned,” Eads said. “It felt like a personal attack.” Eads said he received several emails and Facebook messages after the video was released. “I realized that it really wasn’t about me, and it was really a bigger deal, even bigger than a gay issue, that they would outright laugh at something like that.”
“This is a very political and contentious issue, but I think that most people from any political persuasion can recognize that this event was disrespectful in nature,” said ASUAF President Mari Freitag in an email. “However, since this was a caucus and not a committee, they really have the right to react however they want.” Freitag said that although not a lot of students contacted her about the video, the students that did were very upset.
Pruitt and House Speaker Mike Chenault apologized for the laughter the following Monday in an official statement. “It’s clear from the totality of the response and circumstances the laughter was in reaction to which legislator had to field the difficult question,” Chenault said.
“They’ll turn it any way they want to, when you need to, you’ll try to spin something to make yourself look good,” Eads said. “But basically what they were doing was laughing in the face of the idea of equality.”
Eads felt that the legal recognition of gay civil unions was just the first step. “It’s again saying separate but equal, if you’re a heterosexual you can get married but if you’re homosexual, you can have a civil union,” Eads said. “It’s sad and backward”
“That’s outrageous because that’s what always happens. It’s like this is no big deal, and it wasn’t even about that,” Sunwood said. Sunwood said that the apology was just “finding a way to make it like its not a big issue and it’s’ not something that’s important to people.”
Eads said that he feels it’s important for students to watch the video because they are the next generation, and their views will affect policies. “I would really hope that people would think about, watch the video and think about it,” Eads said.
UAF’s current nondiscrimination policy, updated by the UA Board of Regents in 2010, protects students from illegal discrimination but not transgender students. “Illegal discrimination against any individual because of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, physical or mental disability, marital status, pregnancy or parenthood is prohibited,” according to the policy. The Board of Regents did to include sexual identity, which would cover transgender people.
There are also numerous “safe spaces” on campus for LGBT students, such as the Women’s Center but none of them are backed by the university.
“The fact that anybody’s laughing about something which is such an important matter, that affects people’s lives so much–that upsets people,” Sunwood said.