Tiffany's testimony: To protect each citizen

My name is Tiffany McClain, I'm a resident of downtown Anchorage, and a beneficiary of the civil rights movement that ultimately gave birth to laws to protect people of color, women, people with disabilities, and religious communities from discrimination in the public sphere and--in at least 108 cities across the country--also protect me from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I'm here to urge Assembly members to vote Yes on a version of AO 64 that does not yield in its original purpose of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

When I hear the arguments in opposition to AO 64, I can't help but be reminded that in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, there was a huge outcry from white segregationists who invoked their interpretation of Christianity to rationalize their objection to school integration. They argued that the Supreme Court was forcing them to disobey the laws of God, who had--in their view--created the races as separate for a reason. School integration, they believed, would inevitably lead to intermarriage between the races, which violated God's plan for the universe. To them, integration was a sin.

I am very grateful--because otherwise I probably wouldn't be standing here today--that in the face of such arguments, those in charge of making and enforcing the law recognized that they had a responsibility to protect each and every citizen from discrimination and that while people and churches have a right to believe what they want, the exercise or invocation of religion is no excuse for discrimination in the public sphere--I mean public schools, housing, restaurants, and employment. And I sincerely hope that Assembly members will do the same by voting Yes to protect LGBT people from discrimination in these aspects of public life.

At the last hearing, Assemblymen Gutierrez asked a man testifying against AO 64 if this was a black-and-white issue, if one side had to lose in order for the other to win. I strongly disagreed with that man's answer in the affirmative. Our Constitution, our legal system, our government is all about compromise, about finding the right balance between protecting individual freedoms without allowing any group of people to run roughshod over the freedoms of another group. It hasn't always been easy, but if we want our democracy to survive it's a balancing act that we all have to commit to. There's nothing black-and-white about any of this and to suggest otherwise is just as extremist a view as those who, back in the 1950s, were so certain that integration would lead to the destruction of the white race. Take a look around--white people are still here. And I believe that if this law passes tomorrow or next month, or next year that 60 years from now there will still be churches and schools that choose to preach against homosexuality and they will be allowed to exist--and should be allowed to exist--because that's what our Constitution promises. But that promise can in no way be interpreted to mean that individuals should be denied equal access to employment, housing, education, and public accommodations just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. That is all we're asking you and the mayor to recognize.

Thank you.

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