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Conservatives propose anti-trans ‘bathroom’ initiative in Alaska’s biggest city

An ugly fight could return to the city.

CREDIT: iStockphoto/JonnyNoTrees
CREDIT: iStockphoto/JonnyNoTrees

Anchorage, Alaska has had years of fights over whether to protect its LGBTQ citizens — and it could be bracing for yet another one. This week, the Alaska Family Council, a one-employee organization, filed around 8,500 signatures hoping to place an anti-transgender initiative on next April’s mayoral ballot.

In 2015, the city passed a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Given more than 40 percent of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage, this was no small accomplishment for the state. The proposed initiative would gut the protections and mandate discrimination against transgender people.

The initiative language dictates that any city-owned building must divide all of its bathrooms or changing facilities according to “biological sex.” It further defines “sex” as “an individual’s immutable biological condition of being male or female, as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.” Just to ensure that trans people can’t circumvent the ban with a changed birth certificate, the measure specifies that an “individual’s original birth certificate may be relied upon as definitive evidence of the individual’s sex” [emphasis added].

But it doesn’t just impact city-owned facilities. An additional provision adds that “it shall not be unlawful” for any employer or business to enforce sex-specific policies for their facilities as well. In short, the initiative legalizes city-wide anti-transgender discrimination.

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If the initiative qualifies, it won’t be the first time the city fights over trans rights. In fact, a 2012 fight was one of the first major campaigns in which bathroom fears were fanned by conservatives. That tactic worked, and an initiative to implement LGBTQ protections failed. In particular, an infamous set of demonizing ads ran during that fight that have since been recycled in other anti-transgender campaigns, like in Houston in 2015:

Given Anchorage already has LGBTQ protections and times have changed since 2012, it’s unclear whether the initiative stands a chance. Regardless, a campaign with ads like that would still have a very harmful impact on the city’s queer community.

The city’s clerk will have to verify that at least 5,753 of the submitted signatures are from registered Anchorage voters before the initiative is placed on the ballot.