Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws don’t cover sexual orientation and gender identity, but it’s not for lack of trying. Legislation that would add both as protected classes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws have been introduced in some form or another for the past decade only to find little broad traction.
Backers are hoping that this year might be different following House Bill 17’s advancement out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week, which marks the first time the legislation has ever advanced from that committee. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and has the backing of several other Democratic and Independent legislators.
“I want people to feel like they are equal in my society and that they are welcome,” he said, adding that the legislation would address outstanding issues following the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. “Some of this is when you have the Obergefell decision that two men can marry, but you’re then going to say they can marry but they can’t occupy the same rental? It’s illogical.”
The measure would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, which currently protects race, religion, color, national ancestry, physical or mental disability, age, sex, marital status, pregnancy and parenthood as classes protected from discrimination in the areas of employment, credit and financing, public accommodations, rent and property sales.
A 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County found that protections for sex extend to both sexual orientation and gender identity at least in the areas of employment. The Alaska Human Rights Commission has aligned its work with that ruling, but Josephson said that this legislation is needed because it would clearly address protections in other areas like financing and rentals. Passing a state law, he added, would also more clearly extend protections to people who live in cities where there’s not equal protection measures, like Fairbanks.
Josephson also recognized that it’d be a moral victory for people who’ve long been fighting for equal protections. The legislation still has a ways to go. It still has a stop in the House State Affairs Committee, where previous forms of this legislation passed in prior years, before it could reach the floor for a vote.
Josephson said that’ll be a matter of the support from the public as well as timing with the clock ticking on the legislative session. He also acknowledged that the legislation would likely face a long-shot in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I’d be happy to do that because even though the Senate may be unamenable to it, it’s the way these things have been historically, to get it one step at a time,” he said. “I would love to bring this to a floor vote even if the Senate didn’t take it up or give it a hearing. That would be a step in the right direction.”
Elias Rojas, the board president of Alaskans Together for Equality, celebrated the legislation’s advancement and said it’s a rallying moment to build support to push it further into the process.
“No matter our differences, all Alaskans are entitled to the security of knowing that we can’t lose
our jobs, our housing, or our families because of how we were born, where we worship, or who
we love,” he said, calling on people to reach out to legislators in support of the legislation. “If we work together, we can make 2022 the year that we finally secure equality under the law for all Alaskans.”