A recent scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign shows that Juneau leaves a lot to be desired for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the community. The capital city scored 23 points out of 100 in 18 categories, not including bonus categories, covering issues like non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition and domestic partner health benefits. The organization compiled a report of 291 U.S. cities in its 2013 Municipal Equality Index Scorecard.
Juneau’s number seems low — although the city beat out Anchorage’s score of 21 and blew away Fairbanks’ 2 — but a closer look at Juneau’s laws shows things aren’t as bleak as the report would have readers believe, City Manager Kim Kiefer said.
Kiefer reviewed the HRC’s scorecard for Juneau before it was published, and was able to submit revisions. However, her revisions weren’t reflected in the HRC’s final report, she said. By her calculations, the city should have received a score of 35, gaining points for non-discrimination in city employment, where it received no points.
As written in a City & Borough of Juneau ordinance, the city practices merit-based employment — considering only whether a potential hire is a good fit for the job, and nothing else — instead of a non-discrimination policy that could be exclusionary in itself, she said.
“We said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. If we start listing who we’re not going to discriminate against, we’re going to leave someone out,’” Kiefer said. “That doesn’t come through on this scorecard.”
Another questionable point was Juneau’s loss of eight points for not having an LGBTQ police liaison or task force, she said.
“I don’t know how many communities our size would have that,” she said. “I don’t know that we’re a community that would have a task force like that.”
The city also only scored two out of five points for leadership’s public position on LGBTQ equality. Kiefer said she didn’t know what caused the city to lose three points there.
“I don’t know how they determine the scoring based on the information they provided,” she said.
The city lost points for a lack of non-discrimination laws when it comes to non-government employment and housing. For example, a Juneau landlord can legally evict a person because of his or her sexual orientation. The city also doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships in a municipal domestic partner registry.
Local LGBTQ rights activist Maureen Longworth said that, although Juneau’s not perfect, she’s noticed a concerted effort from the city to treat all residents equally. About five years ago, when Longworth’s longtime partner, Lin Davis, applied for a senior citizen tax exemption card with the city, Longworth tried to apply for a spouse card. The city had never encountered that before, she said.
“But right away the city assembly approved it,” Longworth said. “It was just done, no fuss no muss.”
Karen Wood and Darla Madden, who have a 13-year-old daughter, celebrated 22 years together on Saturday. Wood said Juneau has been an incredibly supportive place for a same-sex couple to raise a child.
“Having a child is wonderful and she goes to school with other kids who have two moms or two dads — she’s in the Montessori program here,” Wood said. “They really focus on respecting everybody and that families are made up of all different kinds of people.”
For Wood, the frustration lies with state laws that prevent her relationship from being recognized. This has long been a point of contention in Alaska: the first published legislative research on the topic was done in 1987.
“Initially we applied for a marriage license 15 years ago, and it was denied,” Wood said. “And, too bad, because I’d really like to get married here — where we’ve lived for over 20 years. Trying to explain it to our daughter, she just cannot comprehend why her parents can’t get married.
The couple plan to go out of state to get married, Wood said.
“We’ll just have to have another wedding.”
In the past 10 years, Juneau has made leaps and bounds, Wood said, regardless of what’s reflected in the HRC’s report card. In the past, she said, Juneau’s LGBT community “lived in more fear, I think.”
“Younger people now are just so open about who they are,” Wood said. “I think nation-wide it’s progressed and it’s definitely progressed here in Juneau.”
Juneau’s scorecard can be viewed online at www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/MEI_juneau_2013.pdf.