KC Casort has testified for LGBTQ non-discrimination bills in Alaska since they were a teenager growing up in Fairbanks.
Casort, who identifies as queer, and works as a field manager for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said they’ve never believed that the state would protect LGBTQ people, even while protections were briefly in place last year.
“I’ve never trusted that my right to be able to do all those things — get a job, be in a house — have been protected, because they’ve always been at the whim of an attorney general,” Casort said.
An Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica investigation published last week revealed the attorney general directed the Alaska Commission for Human Rights to void equal protections for LGBTQ Alaskans in areas like housing and financing.
Representative Jennie Armstrong, a West Anchorage Democrat who filed the bill, said it’s both a human rights issue and an economic one, for a state that is facing a deep labor shortage as people leave for opportunities Outside.
“With 10 years of out-migration, I can tell you one thing that won’t reverse that is not having equal rights for people,” she said. “If you want to have more businesses invest in this state, you can’t have a business come here when there’s different employment protections in different parts of the state and different housing protections.”
Armstrong’s bill is short. It primarily updates the Commission for Human Rights’ definition of “sex,” a protected class in Alaska, to include “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”
“I filed this legislation because I want it to pass,” Armstrong said. “I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m not trying to do anything proforma, I want to approach this in a way that gives it the best shot at passing.”
Fifteen House members — all Democrats and Independents — co-sponsored the bill.
Alaska’s Attorney General Treg Taylor ordered the state Commission for Human Rights to remove sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination protections in all areas except in employment matters late last summer, according to the ADN investigation.
In an emailed statement Taylor said the move was consistent with state law, which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes. He said it’s up to the legislature to expand the protections beyond employment matters.
The basis for Alaska’s LGBTQ protections comes from a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Bostock v. Clayton County, which protects employees from discrimination because they are gay or transgender.
In early 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order extending those protections for people in schools and government jobs.
Under Taylor’s leadership, Alaska is one of 20 states suing the federal government to block that extension.
“Why would Alaska sue to discriminate against people and families like mine? It just doesn’t make sense” said Andrew Gray, an openly gay East Anchorage Democrat and a co-sponsor of the House bill.
“When it comes to housing, lending finance, government accommodations — I find that really alarming,” Gray said. “The fear is that this is going to hurt not only people like me, but families like mine.”
Gray said amid other recent actions from the Dunleavy administration, including proposals to limit the rights of gender non-conforming children in schools, the discrimination protections rollback feels like one piece of a socially conservative agenda.
“It’s all part of the same cloth … It’s bringing lower 48 issues to our state, and they’re supplanting the very real issues that we need to be working on,” Gray said.
Gray and Armstrong acknowledge the bill will face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House this session. It still needs to pass through three committees before it comes to the House floor, and it’s possible time will run out.
Wasilla Republican Jesse Sumner chairs the House Labor & Commerce committee, where the bill currently sits. He said he needs to take a closer look but could be in favor of the bill.
“Possibly,” he said. “I don’t know that I’d be opposed.”
Other committee chairs Democrat CJ McCormick and Republican Sarah Vance did not respond to requests for comment.
Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbank Democrat, is crafting a similar bill to create LGBTQ protections on the Senate side, but said he does not yet know when it will be introduced.
In the meantime, Casort, the Fairbanks field manager, said the fight for anti-discrimination protections can feel disheartening, but they’re hopeful watching a new generation of queer lawmakers pushing for change.
“I know so many young people who’ve moved out of the state, because we don’t feel safe here,” they said. “But I also know so many queer and trans people who live here, and it’s our home and we’re not leaving.”