ANCHORAGE - A day after he decided to remove a gay pride exhibit at the city library, Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch said he was rethinking his directive and will personally inspect the display materials before making a final call.
The exhibit sponsored by Metropolitan Community Church and the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays was put up Monday evening and taken down Tuesday morning soon after Wuerch was briefed about it. He was shown a diagram but did not see the exhibit.
The exhibit, with posters and a rainbow-colored banner that said "Celebrate Diversity," may land in another city building if not Z.J. Loussac Public Library, Wuerch told reporters Wednesday.
"The dialogue has been opened, and I've made a commitment to go back and re-examine," he said.
The abrupt removal sparked local debate. Wuerch said he had heard from a number of people.
Display sponsors said all the attention is fulfilling their hope of educating the public about acceptance of gays and lesbians.
"The very point we were trying to make is happening now," said the Rev. Jan Richardson of Metropolitan Community Church after meeting with Wuerch. The mayor's reconsideration seemed to come from the heart, she said. "His thinking has been broadened for whatever reason."
The mayor said he wants to encourage tolerance for all groups, including people who are gay. He said he initially rejected the exhibit because he thought it was advocating a viewpoint and would be disruptive to the library.
"The library is the center of information. It is the repository for all competing ideas. But it is not there to elevate one idea above another," Wuerch said.
The Alaska Civil Liberties Union may consider a lawsuit if the mayor does not reverse himself, said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director. Loussac Library provides a public forum where materials cannot be censored, she said.
"The city cannot discriminate based on the viewpoint being expressed or some other message," Rudinger said. "This is obviously a violation of the First Amendment. This is the easiest case in the world."
Wuerch made his decision under a city policy that says exhibits can be refused if they might cause "substantial disruptions or material interference with primary library business."
Rudinger said that condition should only apply when displays block doorways or are otherwise unsafe. If patrons become disruptive, they should be dealt with, not the display, she said.
Wuerch took a second look after meeting with representatives of the church and PFLAG.
"I met with some very nice people here," Wuerch said. "They are very sincere. At the time I said no, I didn't realize they had put so much of their energy into making this happen."
Wuerch said he will decide what to do sometime today.
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