Editor’s note: This is the second story in a four-part series during each week of June for Pride Month that features prominent LGBTQ+ residents in Juneau that have made a positive impact on the capital city.
Greg Smith says he feels lucky to have not experienced major discrimination as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Juneau and, as a City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member, he said he’s determined to build a future where other residents can say the same.
“Our community is so strong and vibrant, and there are people that are doing the work for the LGBTQ+ community and I am so thankful for it,” he said Thursday afternoon while enjoying a sunny afternoon at Marine Park in downtown Juneau.
Smith, who was born and raised in Juneau, is in his second term with the Assembly, first being elected in 2019.
He said it’s important elected officials represent the community as a whole and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community makes him think differently about how certain policies might impact that community specifically.
“For me it’s about acceptance, respect and understanding where people are in their lives, and I think it’s important to be aware of it and take it into consideration when you’re making policy decisions,” he said.
The city and recent Assemblies have made major strides in the past decade for the Juneau LGBTQ+ community. Just last November the city received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Municipality Equality Index scorecard for the second year in a row.
The assessment explores municipal governments’ inclusivity to LGBTQ+ people in the community it serves. Of the more than 500 cities assessed, each was rated by its non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.
Smith said the score indicates Juneau has put in work and is moving in the right direction. He pointed to an ordinance the Assembly passed in 2016 as a major milestone toward inclusivity and putting protections into policy.
In 2016 the Assembly voted to make Juneau the second city in the state to adopt an ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Today, CBJ continues to be one of the few municipalities across Alaska that have codified protections for LGBTQ+ people, joined by Anchorage, Ketchikan and Sitka.
Greg wasn’t a member of the Assembly at the time, but he assisted prior Assembly members, such as now Juneau Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl, to ensure it crossed the finish line.
“It was really powerful when it passed, and it was kind of like a show by the community and the body of the Assembly that people should not be discriminated against in Juneau,” Smith said.
However, that’s not the case for the state of Alaska, which currently does not have any codified nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in the state, despite legislation repeatedly being introduced in each legislative session for more than a decade including this most recent session. The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights also last year scaled back its investigation of LGBTQ+ discrimination complaints for categories such as housing and financing, and is now seeking to allow religious and nonprofit organizations to discriminate in their employment practices.
Smith said he hopes to see the statewide situation change soon.
“To me it feels like an inherent protection that should be part of our society,” he said.
Smith said he thinks Juneau is special in the way he felt growing up here, when the community as a whole was generally respectful and valued the diversity of the people that live in the city despite the differences they might have.
He said some people might not know he is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and he’s not afraid to be open about it, but he hopes people remember the other qualities he and other Assembly members have that make them good policymakers for the community.
“It’s a part of who I am, and it plays into a part of my thinking and life experience, but it’s not all of who I am,” he said. “For me, I want to be an Assembly member who is hard working, who has values and vision for the community — and maybe it’s a consideration — but I don’t think it needs to be the main one for people.”
Looking to the future, Smith said he is open and excited to take steps to further Juneau’s inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community. He encouraged residents to share changes they’d like to see as well.
“I hope we can continue to strengthen an environment where people can be who they really are at their core, and feel safe and comfortable to do that in whatever way that is free of discrimination, and to have the space and support to live their life normally and safely,” he said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807.