Following assault on LGBTQ activist, some legislators push to update Alaska’s hate crime laws

A flag flown in protest of former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan's veto of AO 64 in 2009. (Photo by Mel Green/Creative Commons)

Following a brutal home invasion and assault that sent a Kenai Peninsula LGTBQ activist into hiding, several legislators say they’re pushing for the state to update its hate crime laws to protect people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The push follows the brutal assault of LGBTQ activist Tammie Willis following multiple instances of harassment. Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incident—and the FBI has reportedly looked into it as a federal hate crime—but no arrests have been made.

The event, though, has renewed attention that Alaska’s hate crime law doesn’t currently protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity as pointed out in media stories about the assault.

A hate crime can’t be prosecuted by itself. Instead, it serves as an aggravator for other crimes to increase the severity of the sentence. Sexual orientation and gender identity, though, aren’t currently protected under state criminal law. That statute is limited to race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry, or national origin.

Over the weekend, peninsula residents, elected officials and law enforcement officials met for a town hall to discuss public safety in the LGBTQ community. There, Rep. Gary Knopp, a Republican who caucuses with the bipartisan House Majority Coalition, said he is planning to introduce legislation that would update the law, according to a report by the Peninsula Clarion.

Previous attempts at updating Alaska’s laws to protect LGBTQ people have found little traction in recent years as attempts to update the anti-discrimination laws relating to housing and employment have failed to move.

Knopp will find an ally in Reps. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, who jointly penned an editorial calling for updating Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws. Josepshon has carried anti-discrimination legislation since 2015.

“With the exception of ordinances passed in Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka, Alaska is in the Dark Ages when it comes to recognizing the civil rights of LGBT+ Alaskans,” they wrote. “Alaska recognizes no such thing if the victim is targeted due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Thirty-two states agree that sentence enhancement should be considered if the perpetrator intended to target an LGBT+ victim because of orientation or identity. Under Alaska law, perpetrators may receive additional punishment if they target an individual because of their race, religion, ancestry, and more, but we don’t afford the same legal protection when the victim is a member of the LGBT+ minority.

“On the other hand, conservative states such as Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Texas and Utah do,” they wrote. “We should, too.”

There still are likely to be skeptics, though.

At the same meeting where Knopp announced he’d plan on new legislation to update Alaska’s hate crime laws, participants asked Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, if he would support anti-discrimination legislation like Sen. Scott Kawasaki’s Senate Bill 82 (which is similar to Josephson’s anti-discrimination legislation, which is HB 82 this year).

“Micciche said that he is considering the legislation but would not promise to support it,” reported the Peninsula Clarion.

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