A bill that would prohibit housing and lending discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity appears stalled in the state House of Representatives, despite a last-minute lobbying push and an attempt to move the bill from a committee where it has been held for weeks.
“I’m heartbroken,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Armstrong, D-Anchorage. “But I also feel hopeful that between now and next year, that we will make progress.”
Based on current state law, the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights only investigates complaints related to employment discrimination against LGBTQ Alaskans.
Armstrong said having additional, basic legal protections in place for the estimated 10% of Alaskans who identify as LGBTQ would go a long way.
“Non-discrimination is a military issue: Look around at active duty and veterans and is this a way to treat the folks in our state?” Armstrong said at a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol. “It is a business issue. How can a business decide to come and invest in this state when they can’t guarantee that their employees are going to have equal protections across the state?”
The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights stopped investigating lending and housing complaints against LGBTQ people in 2022 on the advice of Attorney General Treg Taylor, an investigation by Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica found.
With about a week before the end of the session, Armstrong and the bill’s other sponsors organized a last-minute group that included LGBTQ teenagers and veterans who met with legislators and the governor in Juneau. They shared stories of discrimination they had faced — and the impacts. Trevor Gaby, a disabled Air Force veteran and current Anchorage university student, said people are moving away because of a lack of protection.
“I’ve noticed that some of my classmates who are also queer identifying have plans to leave the state,” he said. “They didn’t feel that Alaska offered enough protections for their safety.”
The bill’s sponsors said they think it could pass if it came to a vote on the full House floor, but that’s unlikely this session.
The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee and hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing. A vote by the full House on Friday to force the bill to advance narrowly failed by a 22-18 vote.
The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, declined to answer questions about why her committee hasn’t advanced the bill.
The last day of the regular legislative session is Wednesday, May 17.
Correction: This story previously misspelled Trevor Gaby’s last name and to correct the name of the organization Michael Flint works for