In the 1980s, I was part of two major research efforts conducted by Identity, Inc. to document sexual orientation bias in Alaska. One in 10: A Profile of Alaska’s Lesbian & Gay Community, published in 1986, reported on the results of a statewide survey of 734 lesbian, gay, and bisexual Alaskans. Identity Reports: Sexual Orientation Bias in Alaska, published in 1989, included three papers, including “Closed Doors,” a survey of Anchorage employers and landlords; and “Prima Facie,” which documented 84 actual cases of of violence, harassment, and discrimination due to sexual orientation bias. (Copies of both reports are available on the Internet at http://www.henkimaa.com/identity/.) Some of our findings:
Of the 734 respondents to One in 10:
- 61% reported being victimized by violence and harassment while in Alaska because of their sexual orientation (ranging from verbal abuse/harassment, reported by 58%, to physical violence, 11%, and sexual assault, 5%);
- 39% reported discrimination in employment, housing, and loans/credit; and
- 33% reported discrimination from services and institutions.
From the “Closed Doors” component of Identity Reports:
- 31% of the 191 Anchorage employers in the survey said they would not hire or promote or would fire someone they had reason to believe was homosexual.
- 20% of the 178 Anchorage landlords in the survey said they would not rent to or would evict someone they had reason to believe was homosexual.
From the “Prima Facie” component of Identity Reports:
- 84 case histories of antigay bias, discrimination, harassment, or violence (including three murders) were documented involving 30 men and 21 women. 64 of these cases took place in Anchorage.
- A former intake investigator with the Alaska Human Rights Commission found that 32 of 42 discrimination cases based on personal testimony would “definitely” be jurisdictional under state human rights law if it included protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (That is, the commission would investigate them if complaints were made.)
- Victims were predominately gay men or lesbians, but also included heterosexuals who were erroneously assumed to be gay or lesbian.
On June 16, 2009, I testified about these findings before the Anchorage Assembly during public hearings on Anchorage Ordinance 64, which would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Municipality of Anchorage’s equal rights code. I also provided every member of the Anchorage Assembly with CDs containing the full reports, as well as photocopies of the “Prima Facie” report.
In spite of this evidence, one of the chief arguments used in 2009 by opponents of equal rights was that there was no evidence of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. Mayor Dan Sullivan echoed those arguments when, less than a week after the Anchorage Assembly passed AO-64 by a vote of 7 to 4, he vetoed the measure, claiming that “there is clearly a lack of quantifiable evidence necessitating this ordinance.” And so for the third time in 35 years, the Anchorage Assembly in 2009 passed an ordinance that provided at least some equal rights under the law for LGBT residents, only for those rights to be almost immediately stripped away again. (The other instances were in 1975–76 and 1992–93.)
But of course, the evidence of One in Ten and Identity Reports was two decades old, so Mayor Sullivan and ordinance opponents found it easy to ignore. But they found it just as easy to close their ears to the public testimony of a number of Anchorage LGBT residents who stepped forward during the summer of 2009 to testify to very recent experiences of discrimination and bias — even after one opponent openly testified to the Assembly that he’d once beaten a gay man so badly that he put him in the hospital. Public testimony about discrimination, no matter how recent, was downplayed as “just anecdotal.”
And so we come to 2011 and the Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey, now in progress: the first effort since the late 1980s to compile rigorous data about the incidence of sexual orientation bias and discrimination in Anchorage — and the first effort ever to document Anchorage or Alaska-specific data about discrimination and bias on the basis of gender identity.
The Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey is a collaborative project of the Alaska LGBT community and a coalition of Alaska organizations which serve the LGBT community, including Identity, Inc., the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (4-As), Alaskans Together for Equality, Equality Works, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alaska. Our survey questionnaire and overall research project were designed with the expert assistance of Dr. Brad Myrstol and Khristy Parker of the Justice Center at University of Alaska Anchorage. In the future, we plan to conduct a second and far more expansive statewide survey, which will survey LGBT Alaskans statewide not only about their experience of discrimination and bias, but also a full range of other questions of concerns to LGBT Alaskans and their friends and allies.
In the meantime, online surveys are at our project website, http://alaskacommunity.org/, and on the ACLU of Alaska website at http://www.akclu.org/ by clicking the button marked “LGBT Survey.” To obtain a PIN number to access the online survey, or to receive a printed version of the survey, contact Shelby Carpenter of the ACLU of Alaska at (907) 263-2006 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Survey data collection will continue until February 28, 2011. [Update: Data collection has been extended to March 31, 2011.]
We invite the participation of all members of the LGBT community in this important and confidential survey, and we welcome the assistance of our non-LGBT friends and allies in getting the word out.
Melissa S. (Mel) Green was principal writer of One in Ten: A Profile of Alaska’s Lesbian & Gay Community (1986) and coauthor with Jay K. Brause of Identity Reports: Sexual Orientation Bias in Alaska (1989). She is a founding member of the Alaska LGBT Community Survey Task Force. (She also has a blog at Henkimaa.com.)