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City Assembly Meeting Transcripts: Volume 1

June 11, 2009

[Reposted with permission from the Alaska Commons]

Over the coming weeks I will be posting the transcripts from the Anchorage City Assembly hearings on Ordinance 64, which would go through the law books and extend anti-discrimination laws to include coverage for sexual orientation, in the work place, housing, and credit cards. I’m doing it because I think that the words uttered from both sides of the argument are extremely important, and need to be documented. I was in the room on June 9th, and it was a very powerful session where many people, at great cost already, spoke from their hearts for and against an ordinance rooted in inclusion, but surrounded by division.

No matter what decision is reached, we do know with certainty that it will not be a conclusion to this newly unveiled dialogue. This is what, in my mind, makes it all the more important to chronicle the testimonies of the brave individuals who dared speak up.

There are a few ground rules that I am setting in place. First off, although this topic has had my undivided attention for some time now, I can’t promise a time table for when I will get the entire compilation online for viewing. I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, and as busy as life has gotten lately, it’s just going to get busier for a bit. And while my fiance and I will obviously still be attending the meetings and showing our support, we do wish to set aside enough time to enjoy  the experience and spend some time with family and friends that make the trip up.

Also, I’m keeping last names out of the transcripts. There are some courageous people who really opened themselves up to the possibilities various repercussions, and I don’t want to play any part in that. The video of the entire event is streamlined, unedited, from the muni website, but damned if I’m not going to assist any folks with less than honorable intentions in skipping any google searches or mouse clicks.

I’m going to release these ten at a time, to keep it from getting too mind boggling, and to limit it so that you get the chance to read each testimony and think about the words contained within; let them sink in, to capture some of the gravity.

Finally, before we have at it, please forgive any words that I was not able to understand, or errors  which I might make. I did work as a sound engineer on and off, years ago, and so I’ve taken my own tape recording of this and run it through some programs to try and equalize everything and adjust levels to maximize my chances of picking up every word; I’m running three different mixes of the audio and also running those against the muni’s video. But, if I do screw up, and/or if you catch something that I miss, please let me know and I will try to remedy the problem as soon as I can.

Having gotten through all of that, here’s volume 1.

 

Testimony #1
[Joanna, Anchorage Resident]

My name is Joanna [last name omitted] I’m an Anchorage resident. Members of the assembly, I appreciate this opportunity to be able to speak. I’d like to read a paragraph from the Anchorage Daily News from Saturday June 6th 2009 written by Julia O’Malley, and these are her words. I’ve been openly gay since I was 17, and I can say that I’ve never worried about getting fired or renting an apartment. I have a huge supportive family and wide network of friends. So, [unintelligible] but every stranger that I’ve come out to, from my high school principal to the cable guy have been totally respectful. I didn’t want to get caught up in the same old fight, because I had believed the world had changed. I believe most people in my town were tolerant, whether it was said so in amendments or not. This has been her experience, I think this is the experience of our country, which is based on human rights. I don’t think we need to add special rights for special groups. And this, I’d like to close with just saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Testimony #2
[Stephanie from East Anchorage]

My name is Stephanie [last name omitted] and I am hear representing myself, my family, and other like minded happily rooted Christians in the community. I am a resident of East Anchorage. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this ordinance. I speak on two major concerns that I have with ordinance 64. My first concern is that this ordinance would not allow freedom of religion and the free expression thereof as stated in both the US and the Alaska constitutions. This ordinance would open the door to countless lawsuits and legal battles where institutions and individuals of religious convictions to the contrary would be guilty until they proved themselves innocent in a court of law. President Obama was in Cairo, Egypt last week speaking to the Muslim world. The following excerpts are from that speech. The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom. People from every country should be free to choose and live their faith, based upon, based upon a persuasion of the mind, and the heart, and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways. He then went on to say freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which people protect it. End of quote. This ordinance, as written, would not protect religious freedom. My second concern is the urgency with which this has been presented and put up for a vote. This ordinance has been revised at least twice in the last week. It is quite obvious to me that this is still a work in progress. There are many unanswered questions regarding the application and potential consequences of this ordinance. Each time a revision is made, new questions arise. In December, the Anchorage Assembly approved Union contracts that would be rushed through by our mayor before he left office. Within weeks of those votes, it was determined that the contracts would have to be renegotiated because of the budget shortfall. All the questions that rose about the contracts, we simply did not take the time to thoroughly research the fiscal impact before voting to approve them. Had this been done, many problems and countless hours of additional work might have been avoided. It appears that we are headed in the same direction now. There are too many unanswered questions about the application and [unintelligible] of this ordinance. We are dealing with people’s lives and their livelihoods, and as such more time is needed to thoroughly examine all of the issues and ramifications of this ordinance. Governing in this hasty manner is not only inefficient, it is not responsible. The citizens of Anchorage deserve better. Please vote no on ordinance 64. Thank you.

Testimony #3
[Deanna, residency not specified]

Thank you for providing this opportunity for your constituency, I’m sorry my name is Deanna [last name omitted], to express our opinions publicly. My comments will address the assertion of the proponents of this ordinance that it is a civil rights issue. When I was growing up, I’m sorry, that their effort is comparable to that of blacks in their struggle to overcome the societal resistance to changing Jim Crow laws that were still oppressing them when I was young. When I was growing up in the Chicago area in the sixties, my dad took a teaching job at Chicago Vocational School. CVS was a vocational high school in inner city Chicago. As an English teacher at a vocational school that had a 97% African American population, he sought to find literary resources that would engage his students. One of the books he had been reading was this one, it’s called Black voices, it’s an anthology of African American literature. It was in this book, when I was about thirteen, that I read the writings of someone who became one of my favorite black authors, Langston Hughes. Last summer, nearly forty years later, I returned to that volume when looking for poetry for my fourteen year old literature loving daughter. Taking a detour to learn more about a favorite childhood author I soon found out that Mr. Hughes was gay. This discovery did not in the least change my esteem of him as a person or a poet. The gay community has contributed to our shared history and culture in many rich and substantive ways. Now this same group, with the backing of well funded and prominent organizations such as Equality Works and the ACLU, have couched their arguments using civil rights language as an attempt to draw a close parallel between discrimination against the black community during the Jim Crow days with the current perceived discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. This is a speechless argument from, that distracts from the primary problem with the wording of the ordinance before us this evening. The ordinance contains a religious exemption as well as exemptions in the hiring practices of small business owners. Why? The inclusion of such exemptions upholds my assertion that this is not a civil rights issue, and not that, I’m sorry, it is not as a civil rights issue and not a discrimination issue. Indeed the exemptions almost seem arbitrary. Had you decided in favor of such exemptions, should they not also be applicable to individuals? To persons in any situation who choose to exercise their right to freedom of religion by not taking actions that would appear to be an endorsement of what most religious people would consider to be immoral behavior. The ordinance is not about civil rights, it is about special rights. I would [3 minute timer sounds] support the efforts of the assembly to ensure the same civil rights that our constitution, and the assembly are not being in the business of adding special rights-
[Chair: Thank you very much.]

Testimony #4
[Jonathon from Anchorage]

My name is Jonathon [last name ommitted], I’m from Anchorage. I’m seventeen years old and I grew up with myself, my family, and other like minded bible believing Christian youth in the community. I, thank you for hearing my comments on ordinance 64. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, it’s from Alaska state constitution, Article one, section four. My first concern with this ordinance is that it does not define bona fide… religious or denominational institutions. This would force churches and other religious institutions to go to court and allow a judge or jury to determine whether or not they are bona fide. That brings the free exercise of religion which is in direct conflict with the state constitution. My second concern with this ordinance is that it does not allow exemption of religious institutions on the issue of sexual behavior. It says that the religious institutions may give a preference as to whom they hire. It says nothing about whether religious institutions may require all employees, members, et cetera, to abide by the teachings and or beliefs of the institution, including those related to sexual behavior. Taking away rights from one entity so that more rights can be given to another is not equal rights. This assembly has an obligation; a constitutional obligation to all religious institutions to protect their rights. Ordinance 64 is not. I urge you to vote no.

Testimony #5
[Barbara, residency not specified]

My name is Barbara [last name omitted]. There once was a time when the color of skin determined friendships, civil rights, and the water fountain to use. When I went to public school in the 50’s and 60’s Turnagain, Central, Romig, and West, children with differences both physical, emotional, or psychological were excluded from my experience. Exclusion was about fear and inaccurate information. Can you imagine yourself enforcing those beliefs now? Each generation has lessons to learn. Who have we excluded? Who is not fully included in the conversation of life? This is the continual discovery of being human. A lesson learned from my family of origin. My parents, Glen and Norma [last name omitted], were members of this community for years, became pioneers for social justice in their sixties, when they began to confront the beliefs they were raised with as they listened to gays and lesbians who trusted them enough to tell their stories. My mother in law, [name omitted] a school cook in northern Minnesota with a high school education, also decided in her sixties to become an advocate for gay rights. They all made their decision to advocate before they knew their grandson was gay. I am here today carrying forward my family legacy of courage. To be willing to learn even when I am fearful or uncomfortable; to change my mind, and above all to be inclusive and even celebratory of differences. My husband and I are parents of two beautiful young men, Hans and Stephen [last name omitted]. My older son Hans is gay. What I can tell you is that when I became a mother, and this was not the version of motherhood that I imagined, and yet I consider myself to have been very gifted in this journey. As I look at you as assembly members, I am grateful to several of you for mentoring my son in the world’s politics. He learned under your tutelage as a student representative of the Anchorage school board. Part of your legacy is with him. As at 26, he serves as the deputy legislative director in the governor’s office of the state of Oregon. One of the reasons Hans lives in Portland rather than in Anchorage is that in Portland he is treated as a citizen with civil rights. I look forward to the day when the municipality of Anchorage is a community in which my son would be welcome, have equal rights, and be celebrated. Ordinances and laws can be steps to create equality by providing rights and recourse while encouraging communities to become inclusive. There will always be more work to be done despite laws and equities will continue to exist. As I look around this room and see so many of my friends who have many things in common with me irrespective of my sexual preference or theirs, I anticipate [3 minutes timer sounds] the day when we can tell her story, and history and say there was once a time when gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender individuals in the municipality did not have civil rights, but that time is no more.
[Chair: Thank you.]
As an assembly, you are creating a legacy, what will the legacy be? Thank you.

Testimony #6
[Yolanda, resident of Anchorage, Eagle River, Girdwood, not specific for current residency]

Hello, I’m Yolanda [last name omitted], I’ve lived in Anchorage, Eagle River, and Girdwood for several decades and I enjoy the city very much. I have become active. I have joined several organizations, I’m up to many things. And I’ve enjoyed living in Anchorage, I have found it to be an all inclusive and nondiscriminatory community that embraces all. One of the groups that I’ve, um, joined was, um, the Bridge, what is that community? I don’t belong to it now. [Voices from the crowd say “Bridge Builders”] Bridge Builders. Uh huh. And I… have several friends from several parts of the world, I also am multilingual and I teach… English to many foreigners, and I meet people from Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan… oh maybe twenty countries, so I enjoy many cultures. I have not been discriminated against, nor my family, and I’ve enjoyed living here and I plan to continue living here. I am not supporting this ordinance. I don’t believe that it needs to have the words sexual orientation, those are a poor choice of words. And I also want to avoid wasteful time and money, as… mentioned by the second speaker earlier when… assembly, the previous administration passed complete several, I think, like, six union, six union contracts. And I don’t think we should pass this one with such a haste. The present acting mayor who was not elected by us, he is holding a chair, he is holding a position, and he is acting in a rush, maybe to make a name for himself, I don’t know what it is. But I think it requires the voice of the people, of all of Anchorage, the municipality. And I hope that… this is not a pass. I think it’s the wrong time and again… I could not feel that I have been discriminated, I think that Anchorage has been all embracing community. And I hope that many come out, more than there are today, or continue to do so, that will support no on this amendment, on this ordinance. Thank you.

Testimony #7
[Cindy, Anchorage resident]

Madam Chair and the members of the assembly, my name is Cindy [last name omitted] I’m a resident of twenty five years here in Anchorage Alaska. On May 31st, my thirteen year old adopted daughter went to the Dimond Center with her twenty year old sister for a family outing. When she returned home that afternoon, she was a bit shook up and panicked over her encounter in the woman’s restroom there. A man, dressed as a woman, entered the woman’s restroom while she was in there alone. He turned to say hi, how are you, in a really deep voice. My daughter froze. She was unable to speak. She left the… restroom rather quickly. My daughter is not equipped to handle this situation and should not have to in a woman’s restroom. I explained to her that if I were there I would have asked him to leave or… contacted security. She then informed me of another incident where she came encounter with a female cross-dresser over at Costco. This time she was with my seven year old foster child. I was waiting there with a basket of bibs on the other side of the register. And that was on May 22nd. Am I to escort my children to the restrooms because we want to give these folks special rights? I’m just concerned and tired of these multiple accounts that my girls, who’ve been able to use the restrooms before, cannot go into a woman’s only restrooms without the fear of a cross-dresser being in there. This should be illegal for a biological male to enter a female restroom, and now I hear this ordinance will try to make this type of dress and behavior acceptable. It should be the duty of the city to protect families against cross-dressers whether they are a heterosexual or a homosexual worker. Please help the women of this city to be able to go into woman’s restrooms without fear, help mothers to be able to let their girls go into restrooms without chaperons because of a concern that a man may be in there. Thank you.

Testimony #8
[Alisson, Anchorage resident]

Thank you, I’m Alisson [last name omitted], Chairman Ossiander, I am here to testify in favor of the proposed ordinance. It is long past time to make this important change in the law. Social science research tells us that people who know gay people or have gay people in their families are less likely to discriminate or to support discrimination. Many of you know me. If you don’t know me, you probably know who I am. I am a divorce lawyer, I’ve been in business in Anchorage for twenty five years, I have a family including children and grandchildren who live here. If you do not support this ordinance, you are in affect saying that you deserve legal protections that I do not deserve. Some very strange arguments are being made about why this is a good idea. None of them make any practical sense. I want what you already have and I have yet to hear any good reason why I should not have it. There is no such category as good homosexuals, any more than there is a category of good heterosexuals. All people come in an endless variety from heroes to criminals. The variety of heterosexuals include murderers, pedophiles, adulterers, and inconsiderate people. No heterosexual has to prove that you deserve your civil rights. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are no different. Some are admirable and some are not. We should not have to audition for social approval in order to be guaranteed the right to a home and a job on the same basis as everyone else. In our system, a person’s religious beliefs have only a passing acquaintance with the civil rights of others. We are each free to pull any belief we like but none of us are free to impose a belief system on others. I cannot refuse to serve baptists or pagans in my business even if there beliefs are anathema to me. And they should have no right to… refuse to serve me in any business on the basis that I am a lesbian. Our society continues to function because we agree to disagree. This does not imply disregard or disrespect of anyone’s religion. It is simply the only way we can conduct a society of many beliefs. I want to be able to have a home, a family, a business on the same premeses as all other Anchorage citizens. I do not want to have to hide or lie in order to have these things. I want to be able to put my wedding picture on my desk just like you do, without risking being fired because of it. If you think there is some reason you deserve this, and I don’t, I want to know what it is. Thank you for listening.
[Mr. Birch asks a question: I just, you know, in the court you have a lot of communication; lot of emails and phone calls and i’ve had a lot of, you know,  extended discussions with the folks on both sides of this issue. Have you had or would you care to share any first hand account of discrimination, you know, either, you know, restaraunts you’ve been turned away from, jobs you’ve been denied, or, a home or a loan you couldn’t, you weren’t qualified for based on your orientation?]
Well, first of all, I have been my own boss for about 23 years, in part because I found it very difficult to be a lesbian in the work world, you know, and things were worse twenty five years ago than they are now, it might be easier now. Um, I am an attorney and I have many clients who tell me horrible stories of things that have happened to them. Um, being fired because somebody thought they were gay wether they were or not. I’ve had clients who were evicted from housing because a perception that they had friends who were gay, or that they themselves were gay. I have had other attorneys, on the record, in court cases, accusing me of having particular opinions in a case because I am a lesbian and therefor I should not be listened to by the court. I, you know, really I could go on all night with examples like that. I’m afraid it’s rather common.

Testimony #9
[Jessica, Anchorage resident]

Good evening, my name is Jessica [last name omitted] I’m here tonight on behalf of anti-discrimination and for many of my friends, and for a lot of the youth teenagers that are talked with today and how we are coming out. I am a born and raised Alaskan resident American voter. My forefathers fought and died for this country and I have been gay ever since I can remember. I remember liking girls since I was four. I’ve never been into boys. For some people who say I have a choice, that isn’t true. I’ve been experiencing discrimination ever since, at least, the age of three, from my neighbors, harassing my family, commenting about the little boy they had. And my family, who dealt with harassment and discrimination from coworkers, from residents, from jobs, as well for having a gay daughter. They were both religious, well rounded, well educated, and well known. During my years in school, I found out that I [unintelligible] of education; my teachers would throw away my homework assignments. They would allow kids to discriminate me and make fun of me in class, while no one would come to my aid, I would go to my counselor for, to talk to comfort, just to have my counselor go behind my back and tell my family that. I went to a therapist to tell me just to take pills, that this was all in my head, which lead to a great depression, which lead to alcohol, and many times I went to church, thinking maybe a priest could help me. And they told me I was going to go to hell. Which lead me further and further towards suicide, until I came across a few older lesbians who came to my aid, told me it was okay to gay, and shared their stories of all the other girls and the worries and assumptions as I. As soon as I got out of highschool, I tried to get to go to college, get an apartment, get a job. Found myself turned away at the door, homeless, [unintelligible] found out unless I pretended to them and prayed, they wouldn’t count my soul saved. Jobs and renters refused, they said they didn’t believe in having a gay person because of the morale of the employees. I couldn’t go to college because I couldn’t find any funding. Because once they gound out I was gay no one wanted to sponsor or offer me a scholarship, so I had to work, minimum wage. I experienced many of my friends who had committed suicide over the years, and families who would tell them to go [unintelligible] and that family was friends who got beat by their parents until they told them beat them until they were straight. [3 minutes timer sounds] And I hope that you do pass this for at least, not me, at least for the people who are young gays and lesbians.

Testimony #10
[Mark, Anchorage resident]

Hello, my name is Mark [last name omitted] the reason I have come before you tonight is to propose you add sexual orientation to the list of anti-discrimination laws already in place. Already many cities and states throughout the United States already have such protections in place. I am currently a student attending college but have had numerous experiences in past jobs where I was laid off, let go, or forced to resign because I was harassed to the point where I couldn’t take any more. While attending a vocational trade school in Seward, I was constantly harassed, even though I never made a pass at  my fellow students. After graduating from the program, I worked at various automotive dealerships around Anchorage. I did my job to the best of my ability;  was constantly belittled, given fewer hours and jobs and people hired behind me. When I complained to my supervisor I was told that I had to make the best of it and I shouldn’t complain since I did have a job. I attend the University of Alaska, Anchorage, which includes sexual orientation in its diversity statement. All that I ever did was wear a few buttons and pins, I was verbally harassed and sometimes worried about my own personal safety. Especially using the restroom. Should this ordinance pass, I have no intention of putting on a dress and trying to walk into a woman’s restroom, unlike a certain website admitts. Some people believe you make a choice when it comes to admitting your gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, I disagree with this. For the longest time I considered myself straight. I finally admitted that I was bisexual. In conclusion, it doesn’t take a lot of courage to admitt that you’re heterosexual. But takes a lot to admitt you’re homosexual. Thank you for your time, I hope you make the right decision.

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4 comments

  1. […] At SOSAnchorage.net […]


  2. Great job, John! I’ve linked it in my just-completed account of Tuesday night’s hearing — Assembly report 2: June 9 public testimony.


  3. Hi I think this is a fantastic blog, keep up the good work…


  4. […] 6/11/09. “City Assembly Meeting Transcripts: Volume 1″ by John Aronno (Alaska Commons). John’s transcription of the testimony from the first ten witnesses. Reposted at SOSAnchorage.net. […]



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