This year saw an ugly fight to defend LGBT nondiscrimination protections in Houston, Texas, and it won’t be the last. Conservatives in another city — Anchorage, Alaska — are already preparing to attack a similar law with some of the same ugly tactics.
In September, the Anchorage Assembly voted 9–2 in favor of a law that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity throughout the city, including in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Despite its breadth, the law did include some exemptions for religious groups and individuals with ministerial duties. No other city in Alaska has such protections, nor do they exist at the state level.
But in recent weeks, conservatives have launched an effort to repeal the new protections. Conservative talk radio host Bernadette Wilson is the primary sponsor of the referendum effort, along with several other women, many of whom work for Anchorage Christian Schools, including Danielle Kern, Theresa Miller, Sandy Hofacker, and Shyla Wells. Wilson explained they all have “grave concerns” related to “bathrooms and locker rooms and the safety of our children.”
In other words, if they collect enough signatures by January 11–5,754 out of a population of 300,000 — it could be Houston all over again. In many ways, however, Houston was actually Anchorage all over again.
In 2012, the Anchorage Assembly passed a similar law by a 7–4 vote, but it was vetoed by the mayor. LGBT activists countered by launching a ballot initiative to pass the protections through a popular vote. Though polls initially suggested that it would pass, it failed by a 58–42 margin.
An ugly campaign, led by the Anchorage Baptist Temple megachurch, promoted myths about transgender people in bathrooms somehow being dangerous to scare voters out of supporting the measure. In fact, one of those ads from 2012 was duplicated by opponents of Houston’s LGBT protections this year.
The Anchorage 2012 ad:
The Houston 2015 ad:
Anchorage Baptist is still active, but this time around, opponents may also partner with Alaska Family Council (AFC). Its president, Jim Minnery, has not commented on the introduction of the referendum, but he told BuzzFeed in October that his group was considering taking such action to overturn the law.
AFC has ties to many large national anti-LGBT groups. Minnery’s cousin, Tom Minnery, ran Focus on the Family’s political arm CitizenLink until just recently, and he also serves on the Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Board of Directors. AFC also receives money from ADF and recently hosted the legal group’s star client, Baronelle Stutzman, the flower shop owner who violated Washington state law when she refused to sell flowers to a same-sex couple’s wedding.
With opponents of Anchorage’s law already primed to use myths about the safety of bathrooms, Anchorage could turn into another ugly fight like Houston’s. It will be more difficult, however, for such a campaign to ignore transgender men as the Houston campaign did, because the head of the Anchorage LGBT nonprofit Identity Inc., Drew Phoenix, is a transgender man himself.
Phoenix thinks Wilson is just “undereducated.” He believes attitudes have changed since the 2012 fight, but acknowledged, “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for us.”