Fifty years ago, bricks thrown at Stonewall Inn in Manhattan sparked a riot that ignited a global liberation movement. We have trans women of color at Stonewall like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to thank for responding to police violence with direct action, and making it possible to stand up for equal rights without fear of discrimination for every American, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. We have Stonewall to thank for the annual celebration of Pride that continues today.
Celebrating Pride is just as important today as it was in 1969.
Indeed, the LGBTQ community has made major progress in the last half-century. However, despite an increase in visibility, LGBTQ people do not yet have equal protection under federal or state law in Alaska. A recent survey suggests 45% of Americans incorrectly believe that the LGBTQ have the same rights as every other American — yet this couldn’t be further from the truth in Alaska or the majority of states.
This year, there were setbacks: a non-discrimination ordinance in Fairbanks vetoed by the mayor; a rise in hate crimes among trans people of color; a ban on trans troops in the military; a rollback of federal healthcare protections allowing denial of coverage on the basis of “religious freedom;” and a decision that shocked me personally when the international United Methodist Church — my own spiritual home — decided to take a hardline stance against the LGBTQ community.
The Alaska LGBTQ community is no stranger to resistance, and we know the formula for change. Juneau, Sitka and Anchorage led the way in passing non-discrimination protections. In Fairbanks, residents attended early morning work sessions and testified well into the night. By making their voices heard, Fairbanks demonstrated democracy in action — only to lose fair protections at the stroke of a mayor’s pen.
Just last year, voters in Anchorage faced a “bathroom bill” on the ballot, threatening to strip equal rights from trans friends and neighbors. In response, the community swelled in an outpouring of support, having tough conversations with voters and mobilizing enough people to make history by being the first in the nation to affirm equal rights for trans people at the ballot box, by a wide margin.
Watching fellow humans allow personal ignorance to obscure and denigrate the beauty of our community is painful. However, if we continue to lean into strong action at the local, state and national level, we will ensure these moments are mere blips on the march towards valuing the innate humanity in all Alaskans.
We need statewide non-discrimination protections to protect Alaskans’ access to employment, housing, public accommodations, education, healthcare and the electoral system. In Alaska, we have the chance to change history.
House Bill 82 by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, would provide equal protections for all, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Alaskans deserve a life free from violence, fear and hatred. We deserve a government that reflects and protects communities it serves. It’s time to protect all Alaskans, regardless of identity. Reach out to your legislator today, and encourage them to become a co-sponsor of HB or SB 82.
Ultimately, decision-makers are responsible for our communities’ mental health; however I encourage all of us to check in with the queer and trans Alaskans in our own lives. Without state or federal protections, social support systems carry all the more weight — the very forms of social capital to which people of color, immigrants, those who are HIV+, and working class people have access at more limited rates.
Summer in Alaska means long days. Whether you’re fishing, harvesting or putting away food for the winter, consider taking a break from the summer grind and giving your legislator a call before Pride Month is over. We will achieve equal rights for all Alaskans, but only after we work together to elevate it as a top priority. By the time the Legislature is back in session and you’re taking another can of this summer’s salmon out of the pantry, it will be time for us to push this bill out of committee and out on the floor. We’re all counting on your support. Stand up, vote equality, be heard.
• Evan Anderson is the Civic Engagement Manager for The Alaska Center Education Fund. He resides in Anchorage.