LGBT rights on the line in Alaska

The Task Force's Trina Olson with One Anchorage staff and volunteers.

By Trina Olson, Task Force Senior Training Manager

In November, I had the privilege of supporting the OneAnchorage campaign as it was preparing for its major kickoff. While there, I fell in love with the people in Anchorage — they are my kind of people.

I was born and raised in a town called Eden Prairie, Minnesota. So I know cold. I know cold and I know snow. I know skiing and sledding and have spent countless hours huddled around a small hole on a lake ice fishing with my dad. I come from hearty, utilitarian, Scandinavian stock in the Midwest. I thought we were tough. I’m here to tell you, the people of Anchorage are special.

This fall, LGBT people and straight allies of all ages stood outside on frozen days, sometimes falling on the icy sidewalks downtown just so they could collect the signatures they needed to put a nondiscrimination ordinance on the ballot. They succeeded and have spent the entire winter… in the snow…in the dark… campaigning for equality. Try to picture it — the expected high today is a whopping 10 degrees.

I don’t know if you know this, but our neighbors to the north — LGBT people in Alaska — need our help. Now, with just days until their April 3 Election Day, LGBT people in Alaska need our help. We need to help turn out “yes” votes on Proposition 5 because right now in Anchorage there are no federal, state or local laws of any kind protecting people from being unfairly fired or refused an interview because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The infamous fundraising chicken!

The staff and volunteer team in Anchorage are incredible — they are dedicated, resilient, brave and so hard working. When I went to Alaska in November, we were working on grassroots fundraising. Usually when I teach fundraising, to keep up momentum we ring bells every time we get a donation. In Anchorage, we couldn’t find any bells so the staff handed me a small rubber chicken to squeeze every time someone said “yes.” When you squeezed the rubber chicken it squawked with delight! And it worked. Together, we raised over $10,000 for the campaign in only 90 minutes! The campaign has been doing amazing work, but the opposition just launched its insidious ads, and time is short with the election a few days away. Since my trip in November, we’ve been watching Alaska closely. We’ve sent more staff to help, so right now it’s all hands on deck — our organizers, our organizer friends at HRC and the incredible leadership team of OneAnchorage.

Proposition 5 is about more than making the law better, it’s about making the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Alaskans better. If Proposition 5 passes it will be a win for a nondiscrimination ordinance that covers housing, employment and public accommodations, but it will also change the culture. Before I went to Anchorage I asked what it was like to be an out LGBT person there, and I was told, “You can be gay here, but it’s not like you would hold hands with someone in public.” I get that. I hear that a lot. So let’s support the campaign to pass Proposition 5 so they can change the law. And even more importantly so that soon, very soon, each LGBT person in Anchorage can feel better about holding the hand of the person they love in public.