Report finds that Dunleavy administration quietly removed policy protecting LGBTQ Alaskans from discrimination

People gather for a Pride parade in Dillingham (Brian Venua/KDLG)

Months ago, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration quietly modified a policy from the state Human Rights Commission removing protections for LGBTQ Alaskans from most forms of discrimination. The commission is now refusing to investigate related complaints.

That’s the finding from a new report from the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica. Reporter Kyle Hopkins wrote the story and discussed his findings with Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early. 

Listen here:

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Wesley Early:  So explain what happened here. How did the state end up adding protections for LGBTQ people and then reversing itself?

Kyle Hopkins: This was all enacted by the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, which is like the civil rights agency within state government that investigates complaints of discrimination. Workplace discrimination, but also basic discrimination based on race, sex, age — all the factors that one might be discriminated against — they hear those complaints. People come to them and make allegations and they investigate. And so this agency had made a policy change — a significant one, but one that didn’t get a ton of attention at the time — after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2020. The agency in 2021 said, based on the Supreme Court ruling, we’re now going to investigate complaints of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all categories. And that was a big deal at the time. And what we reported on was that was in place for about a year or so, and then it kind of quietly was rolled back in the fall.

WE: You mentioned that it basically disappeared from the website, kind of overnight. It wasn’t broadly sent out in press releases. Can you talk about the timeline for when that language was removed and how you were made aware of the change?

KH: Sure. Well, for me, the story kind of grew out of reporting on some of the issues at Anchorage City Hall. I’ve been working on a timeline about one of the allegations against the Bronson administration, because the city has its own civil rights arm, an agency that investigates complaints. And so I had been working on a timeline that included the firing of the head of that city agency and she had sued the state. There’s an ongoing lawsuit where she says that she was fired because she had started investigating a library official for making, you know, a discriminatory remarks and some of those remarks involved, you know, LGBTQ issues. And so I was interested in the idea of, well, if you were to feel like you were a victim of discrimination and you wanted to report it to someone who would you report it to? And that led to looking at the state commission a little bit and just becoming aware that they had, at one point, been investigating those cases and that had stopped. And then the key moment was I was familiar with the state agency’s website, and it just explicitly says on that website, and has for years, it’s illegal to discriminate based on these factors. And so I looked at the Wayback Machine — the internet archive — and I just kind of went back month after month. And sure enough, there was a point where it popped up on that website that they were saying, no if ands or buts, that it was illegal to discriminate based against someone who’s gay or trans and then that disappeared. And so that was that kind of led to the reporting that led to the story.

WE: There seems to be conflicting legal advice given to the commission during this time period about how to investigate LGBTQ complaints. You interviewed the director of the commission for this story. What did he say about that?

KH: Well, he said that they, after the Supreme Court ruling, which is called Bostock v. Clayton County, and it held that — I’m gonna get out over my skis a little bit, but my understanding is it held that — discrimination against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently based on their sex. And therefore, if it’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on sex, it’s also illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity, for example. And so they started making a policy change after that Supreme Court ruling. And then according to the commission director, they got legal advice from the Department of Law. So the attorney general’s own Department of Law gave them legal advice that then gave them the confidence to say, “Yeah, we are doing this. This is our new policy.” But then in August of last year, the attorney general himself weighs in and says, “No, that’s not how we’re going to do things.” And then that’s when that’s when the protections were dialed back.

WE: What have you heard from advocates of the LGBTQ community about how the elimination of these protections and lack of investigation could impact Alaskans?

KH: Well, the story included a statement from Identity Alaska, which is a nonprofit advocacy group. And they actually had published this essay by the Human Rights Commission that said, “Here’s the new paradigm, here’s the new manner in which we’re going to investigate these complaints. And it’s gonna include all categories.” So they had published that and then in our story, we included a response from them saying that they called it unconstitutional and they called it state-sponsored discrimination. I think the big question that our story doesn’t answer and I think is unknown is how many cases if any were heard, you know, how many people went to the state agency and said they were being discriminated against in these categories leading to investigations and how many of those investigations were then dropped when this policy was changed. We have no idea what that might be.

Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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