Revised Ordinance Weakens the law and Endangers Transgender people

Mayor Matt Claman and members of the Municipal Assembly presented a revised version on Friday of the ordinance to amend Anchorage's nondiscrimination law to include Anchorage's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens from discrimination. Despite all of the second-guessing and speculation in the media, the language regarding gender identity and expression was not taken out of the ordinance. As written, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people will still be protected from discrimination in most cases of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, financial services, and municipal business.


HOWEVER, Equality Works is concerned that some of the amendments 
1) weaken the scope of the law as it currently stands by exempting small businesses with four or fewer employees, 
2) endanger the physical safety of members of our transgender community by making it legal to force them to use a bathroom that does not correspond to their gender identity/expression, and 
3) single out LGBT people as second class citizens without equal protection under the law by allowing churches to discriminate against LGBT in any situation, while other groups still remain protected in some situations.


We want to present our concerns and misgivings to you—as community members and supporters—and hope that you will provide us with feedback as to what you believe the final ordinance should look like.


Our thoughts on the changes:


1)      Redefining Who Can Discriminate


In Anchorage's current nondiscrimination codes, no business owner is exempt from having to abide by the law. However, in the most recent draft of the ordinance, "Employers" and "Public Accommodations" have been redefined to exclude home-based businesses employing no more than four persons. As drafted, exempted businesses would be able to discriminate against anyone they want, and on any basis—including age, sex, sexual orientation, race, color, nationality, disability, marital status, and religion. Written this way, Anchorage's employment discrimination laws would still be more stringent than federal law as stated in Title VII and many of the laws that exist in other cities. But it would weaken the local code that is currently on the books, potentially jeopardizing the rights of employment and public accommodation not only for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, but for women, people of color, and immigrants too, among other protected classes.


2)      Legislating Bathroom Use


Arguably the most problematic change to this ordinance is this statement: "The prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation imposed by this chapter does not apply to discrimination because of one's biological gender in matters such as access to restrooms…" In a nutshell, this means that members of the transgender/transsexual community can still be forced to use bathrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity/expression. [Editor's Note: the words "such as" imply that restrooms are only one example where transgender-based discrimination will be allowed.]


Why do we take issue with this amendment?


Because the inclusion of such language is intended to prevent a problem that does not exist. Despite the "information" being spread by opponents of this ordinance, none of the 108 cities and counties that passed non-discrimination laws inclusive of gender identity have ever reported a case in which anyone has claimed to be transgender in order to enter a restroom to commit a crime. To the contrary, transgender people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. In a 2002 survey conducted by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, nearly 50% of transgender respondents reported being harassed or assaulted in a public bathroom. (Yes, even in San Francisco.) Transgender individuals have an estimated 1 in 12 chance of being murdered vs. 1 in 18,000 for the average American. Forcing transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex rather than their gender identity/expression only increases those odds.


In short, we feel that excluding transgender people from the right to use the restroom in which they feel most safe and comfortable is not only unnecessary, but an irresponsible public policy choice that endangers lives. We sincerely hope that we can work with Mayor Claman and other Assembly members to create an ordinance that respects everyone's right to safe use of public restrooms and is based on facts rather than fiction and fear.


3)      Singling Out LGBT people


While we respect the rights of religious groups, institutions, organizations, etc. to make decisions regarding employment and accommodations based on their firmly held beliefs, the newly amended religious exemption treats lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as a special class. While churches are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or sex when hiring a new janitor, they would be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. We believe that this new wording unnecessarily singles out LGBT people as second class citizens who are less worthy of consideration than other protected classes. Our state and U.S. Constitutions promise all citizens equal protection under the law. By treating LGBT people differently in any respect, the Municipality of Anchorage is in danger of violating that promise. 



Equality Works is committed to working in good faith with Mayor Claman and other Assembly members to come up with a draft of the ordinance that sufficiently addresses the concerns outlined above. We want to hear your concerns and opinions, and hope that you will also share them with your Assembly members at the public hearing on June 9th.

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