Panel discusses benefits of sexual orientation rights bill
Chris Tucker/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 12, 2013
On Nov. 4, in the UAF Wood Center Ballroom the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, formerly the Gay-Straight Alliance, hosted a panel to discuss House Bill 139. HB 139 is an amendment adding to the Human Rights Law to include sexual orientation and gender expression and identity in the non-discrimination policy.
GSA advisor and Vice Chancellor Pete Pinney moderated the panel, which included Chancellor Brian Rogers, UA Student Regent Courtney Enright, American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska Interim Executive Director Josh Decker and Alaska State Representative (D) Beth Kerttula, the primary sponsor of HB 139.
The panel discussed the new changes that would be entailed in HB 139 and talked about the strides that the LGBTQ community has taken in recent months nationally in their fight for civil liberties. The panel members were quick to explain the pros of the bill, if passed by the Alaska State Legislature.
The panel was hopeful that the addition of HB 139 to the human rights act would help build and foster a better sense of community throughout the state. One of the key parts of the panel was how much this act would cost if it were to be passed into law by the State Representative. Their hope was that it would not cost the taxpayers anything and would keep costly legal cases and lawsuits out of the courts.
Toward the end, the panel discussed the strides the LGBT community had made in recent months as well as ways that could help end discrimination.
In this part of the discussion, the audience told the panel about their struggles with being accepted and times where they had been discriminated against. Members of the LGBTQ community discussed times when they felt they were discriminated against by the federal government. One audience member, a transgender man, got into a legal dispute with the Department of Motor Vehicles because they would not change his gender on his driver’s license after he had received gender reassignment surgery.
In an essay written by Crosby Burns and Jeff Krehely titled “Gay and Transgender People Face High Rates of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment,” they state that between 15 and 43 percent of LGBT workers have experienced some form of job discrimination. Of those, between 8 and 17 percent reported being passed over for a job or fired as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a report titled “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” 19 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people report being refused a home or apartment as a result of their gender identity or gender expression. An additional 11 percent have also reported being evicted from their homes.
In order for the state of Alaska to battle discrimination, the Alaska State Legislature passed the Human Rights Law in 1963, a full year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This law’s purpose was to eliminate and prevent discrimination in employment, financial practices such as being denied a loan due to gender identity, housing, public accommodation and practices by the state of Alaska or its political subdivisions. The law also created the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights whose key roles include advocacy, education and enforcement related to Alaska human rights laws. Many proponents of this law believe that it does not go far enough since it does not prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
This is where the new amendment, HB 139, would step in, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and adding to the powers and duties of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. HB 139 would define gender identity/expression as having a gender identity, self image, appearance, behavior or expression regardless of whether it is different from the sex of that person at birth. Sexual orientation would mean heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or general expression or identity.
Will this act be passed by the State Legislature? The panel seemed unsure. Alaska has been known to pass very progressive laws in the past such as giving women the right to vote on March 14, 1913, one of only ten states granting women’s suffrage at the time. Alaska gave Alaska Natives the right to vote in 1922, two years before Native Americans would even be considered citizens, and another twenty years before they would be given the right to vote.
However, this state was one of the first to outlaw gay marriage completely when Alaskan voters voted to amend the state constitution to state that marriage was a contract between a man and a women in 1998.
The panel was adamant about the long uphill battle they were going to face, and that perhaps this act would fail to get passed, but Kerttula has high hopes for the future and quoted Marin Luther King Jr, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”