Eleven Hours in a Library; the City Assembly Meeting on Equal Rights Ordinance

June 10, 2009

[Originally Posted on Alaska Commons]

What a day.

adn64pic2I just returned home after eleven hours at the Loussac Library, attending the first in what would appear to be culminating in a series of testimonial hearings on the current equal rights ordinance which would extend worker discrimination rights, as well as credit card and housing rights, to include sexual orientation (There was originally extension to the entirety of the LGBT community, and may very well be a new proposal to reinstate that, but that is neither here nor there at the moment).

Upon arrival, Heather and I met with up Mel from Henkimaa and joined a multitude of other faces that we have been absolutely privileged with the ability to call our friends. Over three hundred folks put their signature on the list of participants who wanted to be heard. Tonight afforded us the testimonies of over 80 of them. Many were not Anchorage residents, and simply were there to speak towards their beliefs and principles; LGBT from throughout the state who wanted to speak to the social ills which they have endured and the friendships and faith that have brought them through it, and church goers, predominantly from the valley and predominantly Baptist, who were bussed in in a coordinated effort by Reverend Prevo and his colleagues, to speak to their religious beliefs, and the infringement upon them that they fear this ordinance would cause.

It was already tense early in the afternoon as the seats started filling up. When the meeting started, we all were lulled into a sense state of delayed security while the minutes of previous meetings were read, a few items that could not wait were dealt with, and the assembly members went through a special circumstance situation of pushing other items on the agenda to future dates to accommodate the droves of people who were fulfilling their civic duty of having an opinion.

I have a lot of feelings on the aforementioned opinions that spanned across the hours that followed. I also have it all on tape, which means that everyone who was restricted to the overflow room (and subjected to hopelessly viewing and hearing everyone on the tiny screen), everyone who never made it in the doors, and everyone who had previous engagements— You get to relive it. As soon as I can transcribe it all, which I will do as soon as I can. Hopefully I will have it posted within the next few days, which begs the question, “How much Pete’s blend Major Dickason coffee can one man consume?”

I will tackle that immediately after I answer the same question regarding Jameson and sleep off an incredibly long and transformative day.

But, before that (or during), I wanted to touch on a couple of things that struck me. No doubt they P1010766will be covered more in depth as soon as I go through the tapes and match the sentiment with the audio, but they’re fresh in my head at the moment, and, as a musician at heart, I’m going to need to get them typed up if I have any shot (and many shots!) of getting sleep tonight.

First off, kudos to Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander for presiding over such a remarkable task, and thanks to the Assembly as a whole… With an asterisk.

*Dan Coffey. Sir, it would truly help if you took your position on the assembly seriously. I know that you are leaving to join the incoming Sullivan administration, and I am fully aware that you were not very interested in attending this meeting. But, while you are a part of this assembly, and will have a vote on this ordinance provided that we can get through the testimonies and avoid a filibuster effect from the anti-ordinance crowd busing in people and eternally signing up to speak, the very least you can do is act the part. Mr. Assemblyman, you were barely even sitting behind your name tag half of the time. And when you did muster the serenity to calmly sit and listen to the people, on either side, your eyes virtually never left your computer screen. I ask you, sir, was it Solitaire? Warcraft? What was holding your attention so fixedly?

”][from adn]Secondly, should we be concerned that anyone was allowed to give testimony, regardless of resident status? Going into today, the vast consensus was that we would not reach a vote. The confirmation of this was not a surprise. However, only getting through eighty out of 300 plus three minute testimonies? There was, unquestioningly, some legitimate points made on each side that should be paid attention to, from people that reside outside of Anchorage. But, should they not be bringing their points, beliefs, and testimonies to their own assemblies? If everyone on the “waiting list” shows up again on June 16th to speak, we’re looking at easily another ten hours of testimony. And, as you’ll see when I am able to upload the transcripts from tonight, easily one third (a conservative estimate) was from out of town.

I will grant you that both sides had out of town representation regarding a bill restricted to Anchorage city limits, but for anyone who was there, and as I believe the transcripts will show, it would be very difficult to argue that it was even in displacement. While one out of state doctor argued the merits of the original wording of the ordinance and the importance of protection for  transgenders, and four or five parents spoke on behalf of children who had left the state claiming discrimination on account of being gay, there was a heavy contingent from the Mat-Su Valley, who reportedly arrived in buses, that helped bolster the ranks of the Jerry Prevo, Ron Hammon persuasion. In effect, it looked more like a filibuster than a string of testimonies.

Thirdly, there was a blatant inability to listen. Public speaking is not easy for most, and I give a lot of credit to those, especially, who obviously felt passionate enough about this ordinance to award it their first foray into that world. You could tell that a multitude of people had been preparing their words for days, weeks, months (and for some, years and decades). Please keep this in mind, as I am not trying to target anyone individually for putting themselves out there. But part of the trick of speaking effectively and productively is to listen and work from there. So many responses simply disregarded the heartfelt and tear filled testimonies that preceded them. Countless accusations that this was a “rushed ordinance” permeated throughout the assembly tonight. “What’s the rush?” “Let’s talk about it more!” Many of these statements were directly following the words of people who spoke in this same assembly room when the similar bill passed through in the seventies, and again when gay marriage was addressed in the nineties.  To these people, this is no where on the spectrum of rushed, hurried, or even snail-paced. But no one seemed to hear that.

Also, I have always battled the idea that this war of ideals is limited to one side screaming “Love” and the other countering with “Sin,” but those two points were in strong fashion tonight. And there comes a point where, after someone wears their heart on their sleeve and cries into the assembly room’s microphone, testifying to some of the worst treatment this side of Gitmo which they have endured just trying to live life as the person they believe they are… Having the next person simply walk up and talk about “sin” just seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Again, they didn’t seem to be listening.

These are the kinds of things civil rights are put into law to prevent.

And, finally, speaking of civil rights, the pro-ordinance side needs to let go of trying to define this civil rights movement through parallels with past civil rights movements. When you compare equal rights for the LGBT community with the Black Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement, you devalue your civil rights movement and create wedges between yourself and those other communities. Do not take that to mean that this isn’t a process, or that it is any less significant of a movement. It is simply that we recognize our own struggles through our own identities, and we saw tempers rise when we conflated these different pushes throughout history. As love columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage said last year when he was giving a lecture at the University of Alaska Anchorage (where I am a student), “This isn’t the Civil Rights Movement. It is however, A Civil Rights Movement. In fact, it’s our Civil Rights Movement.” And we need to treat it as such, and uphold the reverence and sanctity of each, and treat it as the gradual and painful process that it is.

As Vic Fischer, one of the framers of the Constitution of the state of Alaska, said tonight, (and I’m paraphrasing, but you can hold me to the spirit of it) times are changing. He reminded us that when he, alongside the Constitutional Congress, wrote our most fundamental of state documents, they were living in a quickly changing world, and had zero hopes of covering every problem that would inevitably confront us in time. That time has reached us. Mr. Fischer spoke of ending all discrimination; that this was the spirit of the constitution he took part in forming.

I can only imagine what twists will meet his words. Amidst the preservering Bathroom talk that was like an oscillating fan tonight, I fear that Mr. Fischer might have opened up Panbigot’s Box. I’m sure by next week, this ordinance, according to Prevo’s extremists, will ignore the discussion tonight and proclaim that through the statement that there should be an end to all discrimination, that this means beastiality, multiple wives, and midget porn in kindergarten classrooms is all back on the table.

Or did anyone actually listen tonight?

One last final thought. To those out there who support this issue, and in this case, I am strongly one of them, please do not make a public scene calling out your assembly members who choose to support this. As you will see in pictures and youtube accounts that will surely pop up over the coming days, this is an issue that has cost people their seats before and could easily do so again. Instead, I might propose that you send them a personal email of thanks, and maybe a promise that you will work extra hard to stay involved and help them stay in a position to represent our common interests and goals. Don’t think for a second that this is over after one vote.


One comment

  1. […] bused in) at the Assembly meeting influenced my decision to write a post about it later. Reposted at SOSAnchorage.net (the Prevo debunking […]

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