Eighteen Alaskans will receive Champion for Equal Rights awards in a ceremony this evening in Anchorage.
Every year, the Alaska Civil Liberties Union presents awards to Alaskans who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in defense of civil liberties. The 18 are gay and lesbian employees of the state and the city of Anchorage who joined in a lawsuit filed last October in Anchorage.
The plaintiffs include 14 Juneau residents, including Maureen ``Mo'' Longworth and her partner Lin Davis.
``I am totally honored to be receiving this (award),'' said Longworth. ``Lin and I both started crying when we read the letter. It's very sweet. Many people have gone before us and done more than we have, but to be recognized is quite an honor.''
The suit sought ``relief from the intentional and severe discrimination that has been aimed at their relationships'' by their employers, the state and its cities and municipalities. It alleged that under current laws, rights and privileges -- particularly health, pension and insurance rights -- granted to married heterosexual couples are being denied to similarly united and stable gay and lesbian couples.
Longworth and Davis have been partners for more than 11 years. Other couples in the suit have been ``life partners'' for 20 years or more.
Because 14 of the 18 plaintiffs in the suit live in Juneau, the ceremony will be reprised here in September, said Jennifer Rudinger, AkCLU's executive director.
``We want to honor all 14 of the courageous women and men who have stepped forward to assert a claim to equal rights to employment benefits for gay and lesbian employees of the state and the Municipality of Anchorage and for their domestic partners,'' Rudinger said.
Additional awards on tonight's roster include an Equal Access to Justice award to Robert Hickerson of Anchorage, executive director of Alaska Legal Services Corp., for ``his tireless efforts to address the needs of Alaska's poor and low-income citizens;'' and the Citizen Activist award to Gilbert Sanchez of Anchorage for his ``courageous defense of immigrants' rights.''