Anchorage mayor keeps gay exhibit out of city's library

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Mayor George Wuerch is refusing to allow a gay pride exhibit be reinstalled at Anchorage's main library.

The exhibit - sponsored by Metropolitan Community Church and the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays - was put up Monday evening and removed Tuesday morning soon after Wuerch was briefed about it.

Wuerch personally reviewed the display materials and said he would not allow it back in the library. The mayor concluded the display was promotional and church-sponsored, and therefore violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

Wuerch also directed his staff and the city's law department to review the current library policy for all exhibits. "Until this review is completed, all designations of public display and exhibit areas on the library of nonlibrary materials are terminated," he said in a letter to the Rev. Janet Richardson of Metropolitan Community Church.

The exhibit contained posters and a rainbow-colored banner that said "Celebrate Diversity."

Dan Carter, who helped with the exhibit, said the display met all the library's requirements and did not have a religious content.

"There is nothing that should have made this controversial," he said. "I feel his decision ... does not reflect an open mind."

The mayor said he initially rejected the exhibit because he thought it was advocating a viewpoint and would be disruptive to the library.

"Considering the long-established policy and the fundamental principles that govern all of us, I have confirmed my original decision and will not reinstall the exhibit," the mayor said in his letter.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union is considering a court challenge, said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director.

"This is obviously a violation of the First Amendment," she said.

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.

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