Day 99: 'God made me, too'
HB99, a housing anti-discrimination bill, advanced today but not without a fair bit of far-right whataboutism.
Good afternoon, Alaska! It’s Day 99 of the legislative session.
In this edition: With the 99th day, what better time for House Bill 99 to advance out of committee? The legislation extending anti-discrimination protections in the realms of housing and public accommodations to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is headed to its final House committee, but not after a particularly impressive bit of right-wing whataboutism that included the straight-faced claim that conservatives driving around with Gadsden flags in their trucks have it harder. Meanwhile, the House Education Committee’s public hearing process on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “parents’ rights” bill has come to an end, never quite yielding the wave of supportive testimony that its backers claimed was out there. Also, the reading list.
Programming note: This weekend, I was honored to hear my name called at the Alaska Press Club’s annual awards ceremony for “Best Blog” in 2022. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in this space and for all the kind messages that keep those feelings of self-doubt at bay. It looks like I may have brought home a little something extra, but frankly, if I’m going to get sick, then the weekend was worth it.
Current mood: 🏆
‘God made me, too’
Is the right of a person to rent a room, buy a house or find a hotel room without the fear that their sexual orientation or gender identity may be held against them the same as the plight of a person driving the Confederate flag-emblazoned General Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard”?
Big Lake Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe made the case while arguing for an amendment that would effectively gut anti-discrimination legislation.
This morning, the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee advanced House Bill 99—legislation that would update the state’s anti-discrimination laws so that the protected class of “sex” covers sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In effect, it would ensure that people in the LGBTQ community have recourse if denied housing or access to public accommodations.
Surprisingly, the legislation ultimately received bipartisan support on its way out of the committee despite considerable right-wing fearmongering.
As for McCabe’s amendment, he argued that because the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County—the 2020 landmark case establishing employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity—dealt with employment, the Legislature shouldn’t extend the LGBTQ community additional protections. Instead, his amendment sought to limit the protections only to work, which would have had the impact of just reinforcing the protections already established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He went on to argue that discrimination against conservatives was a much larger problem in his experience, suggesting they consider adding a person’s political leanings as a protected class to the legislation.
“I’ve heard many, many, many more stories—I’m not in the LGBTQ community, so I haven’t heard the same stories you have, but I am very politically active, and I’ve heard many stories of people being discriminated against,” he said to Rep. Armstrong while debating his proposed amendment. “Homeowners’ associations not even allowing them to fly the American flag or a Gadsden flag in their yard, people being harassed because they have a Confederate flag in the back of their truck or a Gadsden flag, or something like that.”
He also mentioned the General Lee, the orange 1969 Dodge Charger decorated with a Confederate flag from the “Dukes of Hazzard,” as something that causes conservatives to face discrimination.
Mercifully, neither the underlying amendment nor the suggestion that political affiliation be made into a protected class akin to sex or race found much traction with legislators. Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, I-Sitka, pointed out that there’s a big difference between who someone is and what they believe, and she was more compelled to protect something that a person cannot change.
Rep. Armstrong, the bill’s sponsor, also argued that just because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling focused on employment didn’t mean the Legislature couldn’t address housing and public accommodations.
“It is the job of Alaska to protect Alaskans, not the federal government,” she said. “We do not need to wait for them to tell us that people should be treated equally in our state. More than half of the states in the U.S. already have these protections, and I’d love to see Alaska next.”
McCabe’s comments were far from the only right-wing whataboutism on display today, though. Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom “My Children Belong to Me” McKay supported gutting the bill and later opposed its passage, trotting out some familiar transphobia with detailed descriptions of his fears of people using the protections (which already exist in Anchorage) to expose themselves to his grandchildren (which would most definitely still be a crime).
“We would be redefining the word sex. We’re not God. Who gets to redefine if you’re a male or a female? Just because a man puts on a dress doesn’t make him a woman,” McKay said. “We’re not God, and I’m not going play God.”
Rep. Armstrong shot back, noting that it’s straight men—not people in the LGBTQ community—are responsible for a vast majority of the violence in America.
“As someone who identifies as LGBTQ, I do personally resent the fact that we’re equated with being predators or those who enact violence,” she said. “Second, I am a mom, I am a woman, I have children, I have a stepdaughter, and if you’re in Anchorage, this bill doesn’t affect you. They already live under these regulations—gay people are everywhere—and this is already happening in half the state. Third, God made me, too. I’m not trying to play God; I’m trying to play legislator and stand up for the people I’m here to represent.”
A handful of cities in Alaska, like Anchorage and Juneau, have implemented anti-discrimination measures. Still, it remains legal to deny someone housing because of their sexual orientation and gender identity in much of Alaska. The Human Rights Commission temporarily extended housing protections on its own following Bostock but quietly dropped that work at the prompting of Attorney General Treg Taylor when Gov. Mike Dunleavy was facing criticisms that he wasn’t conservative enough.
The fact that the Human Rights Commission had been actively taking and investigating such complaints for nearly a year appeared to factor into bipartisan opposition to Rep. McCabe’s amendment. Moderate Kenai Republican Rep. Justin Ruffridge ultimately opposed the amendment, saying it was important for people to have a venue to hear their concerns on these matters. He also worried that removing the housing and public accommodations protections would invite further discrimination.
“This bill only affects those decisions by the Human Rights Commission and therefore, I think, is headed in the right direction to provide an outlet for people to at least have their voice be heard, and their case be heard,” he said. “For those reasons, I’m concerned the amendment does narrow that view and, in some cases, I think would actually codify the ability for people to either be discriminated against or not have an outlet for that. For those reasons, I don’t think I’ll be supporting the amendment.”
The amendment failed on a 4N-2Y vote—only far-right Reps. McCabe and McKay voted in favor of the measure. Reps. Himschoot, Ruffridge, Anchorage Democrat Donna Mears and Bethel Democrat C.J. McCormick voted against the measure. The vote to advance the legislation out of the committee was 4Y-2N, with the votes aligning the same way.
The legislation now heads to the deeply conservative House Judiciary Committee, its final stop before a possible vote on the House floor.
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