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LGBTQ in the capital, Part IV: Struggles for equal rights

Posted: April 30, 2013 - 5:51pm  |  Updated: May 1, 2013 - 12:05am
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Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Dr. Maureen "Mo" Longworth, right, speak with others after HB 139 was given a short hearing by the House Health and Social Services Committee two days before the end of this year's legislative session. Kerttula's bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Dr. Maureen "Mo" Longworth, right, speak with others after HB 139 was given a short hearing by the House Health and Social Services Committee two days before the end of this year's legislative session. Kerttula's bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Though a lot of what defines a member of the LGBTQ community is who they love, marriage isn’t the only issue of importance. There are many rights and protections that have not yet been granted to the sexual minority, things as basic as protection from being fired from a job or denied housing.

This year, Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula introduced HB 139, which would expand human rights protections to include sexuality and gender identity and expression.

The bill was first introduced last session and this year received a hearing very near the end of session, but the window for the hearing was so small that no testimony was heard, not from the public or experts Kerttula’s staffer Elizabeth Bolling had waiting on the line.

The bill would protect members of the sexual minority from discrimination in areas like employment and housing — protections already in place for race, sex, religion and other categories.

“We had a long list of things already in the statute, so this is just an addition so that you can’t discriminate on someone based on, because of their gender identity, sexuality,” Kerttula said.

There were some familiar faces in the room waiting to testify, including Juneau residents Mildred Boesser, Maureen “Mo” Longworth and Lin Davis.

The State of Alaska and the City and Borough of Juneau, as employers, have non-discriminatory polices, but private employers and landlords, for example, may still discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity and expression. The bill may be active during next year’s legislative session.

Under former Mayor Bruce Botelho, CBJ employment policy was updated to say the City will discriminate only on merit, inclusive wording Lin and Mo suggested would be best mimicked in all non-discrimination policy.

Sara Boesser of Juneau said she was worried when she first came out publicly that her job as the CBJ building inspector might have been in danger, but she was happy to find herself safe.

Lin is a retired State of Alaska Employee and Marguerite Lauri Crawford, Kimberly Hubbard Crawford and Devyn Reece are current state employees.

“My supervisor is fantastic,” Devyn said.

He has dressed up for halloween as a unicorn and at a work potluck he sported a grass skirt and coconut bra over his clothing. He felt there was one co-worker whose attitude toward his appearance and actions was less than accepting, but acknowledged there are “protections under the state that you wouldn’t get somewhere else.”

Rep. Kerttula has introduced HB139 because it’s something she feels strongly about, she said, “Fundamentally... I really believe people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their beliefs, because of their sexual preference, because of their gender, because of their race. And Alaska’s been a real leader in those issues — think about how early we gave women the vote — 1913, is that right?”

Bolling piped in, “Seven years before it was national.”

“Elizabeth Peratrovich has always been one of my heroes,” Kerttula continued. “Again, the civil rights, we had it before the U.S. did.”

“1916,” added Bolling.

“I just think that’s Alaskan. We don’t discriminate against people here because of their beliefs or who they are,” Kerttula said, “We have a strong right to privacy in Alaska, you know, all of those things really drove me to say this should be part of the statutes, plus, fundamentally I just believe this is about civil rights.”

There’s a mix of policy changes on the wish list for the LGBTQ community, adding protections or removing limitations — one that might come as a surprise is that sexually active gay men are not allowed to donate blood. Richard Carter said his friends would probably say, “Oh, this again,” when he brought it up.

“There was a blood drive recently at UAS and a lot of people don’t know, even people in the GSA surprisingly, that if you’re male and you’re gay and, let’s just say you’re not a virgin, you can’t donate blood,” Richard said, “A lot of people don’t know that and it’s shocking to them. I used to donate blood a lot in high school and I stopped. I got a boyfriend and I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to donate anymore.”

Richard asked what would happen if he filled out the questionnaire, honestly stating his sexual history, and the response was, he said, “You will be permanently deferred, you will never be able to donate blood again.”

The FDA regulates blood donations but a visit to their website to find out the exact policy and reasoning for not accepting donations from sexually active gay men was unavailable; the Red Cross site on blood donation provides an extensive list of tests done on donated blood to assure the safety of the recipient.

“I just think it’s funny, if a homosexual male can donate an organ but not blood. It’s ironic, it’s contradictory, all of those fun words,” Richard said. “That’s something that gets my poison blood boiling.”

For some, it’s not just about actions, sometimes laws don’t allow an individual to be who they are — at least not on paper.

“Where I’m from, California, you can have your name changed and all that, and your sex changed on your IDs and on your drivers license and the government will do it for the Social Security Card, but they won’t in California change the birth certificate until you physically have the operation,” Sonja Haselton said. “In Alaska, I think Alaska just requires that you go to court and they’ll change the certificate.”

Haselton has had her identification reflect her gender identity for some time now, but she still sees issues with the process at the state and national level. She said, “Personally, I’ve had all the IDs done since the 90s. In California. To get the IDs changed and all that, you have to have a doctor sign paperwork and you take that to court, the court says yes, then you take it to the DMV and you get your IDs changed and then you get your Social Security changed.”

The tough part is getting vital documents like birth certificates changed. Regarding this difficulty, Sonja said, “That’s wrong because that’s not letting them express who they are and they’re always going to have this frustration inside of them, that they’re not going to recognized for who they are because of what the laws say.”

Rei Radford has been researching services for transgender individuals in Juneau, including legal services.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, I started with a couple of my friends who have known people who went through similar transitions,” Rei said. “It’s really hard to find trans-friendly people in Juneau but, believe it or not, there are a few counselors, doctors even, I’m in contact with a doctor, and one of the women at the AWARE Shelter pointed me to a lawyer who has been trans-friendly in the past.”

To an extent, having one’s legal documents reflecting one’s gender identity might seem just a personal thing, but it could also curb some potential confusion.

“I was talking to someone with Alaska Legal Services and I was like, ‘Well, look, I’m about to go on testosterone, within the next couple months, and I think it would be pretty awkward to have my driver’s license read female when I have this rockin’ mustache,’” Rei said.

It’s not a simple thing for transgender or intersex individuals or the legal community it seems from Rei’s experiences “I think everyone’s a little disillusioned with the process these days. I think last year there was a new law passed in Alaska for trans people, that you don’t need to have surgery to get your stuff changed, you just need a letter of recommendation or a doctor’s letter or something like that, but we’re not exactly sure how intensive that would be to get, I mean, I still need to talk to the doctor about it, and then we need to look at the legal process. It’s kind of confusing and, honestly, nobody I know, even at legal services, has heard about this yet.”

Right now, change is happening at all levels, with ideas and acceptance of the LGTBQ community evolving individually, as a nation, as humanity.

“I feel we’re kind of on the right track. We’re moving slowly, but I think we’re getting there, which is a real joy to see because I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime,” Mildred said. “Change comes so slowly, it’s hard to accept that. But now, like I said, I never though I’d see the progress we’ve made in my lifetime, so I’m happy about that. I think what needs to be done is more of us speaking out more, which is happening all over now.”

Despite all the challenges, Lin said, “Being gay, it’s a profound thing to be part of this civil rights movement, I mean, I wouldn’t choose otherwise in lots of ways.”

Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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