Lawsuit protests gay exhibit ban

AkCLU: Anchorage mayor illegally forced library to remove display

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A lawsuit filed Wednesday claims Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch's removal of a gay pride exhibit from a library violates the U.S. Constitution.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union filed the suit in Superior Court alleging removal of the exhibit violates the right of free speech and the right of the public to view the materials, said Jennifer Rudinger, AkCLU executive director.

"The First Amendment guarantees not only free speech but the right to receive information," Rudinger said.

The suit seeks the immediate reinstallation of the exhibit and a permanent injunction preventing the city from practicing content discrimination again, said AkCLU lawyer Allison Mendel.

Wuerch said in a statement that he was disappointed by the AkCLU's actions. The city attorney had offered to sit down with the AkCLU and the groups it represents to discuss the removal of the exhibit, he said.

"Now, instead of rational discussion, we're being forced into litigation," Wuerch said.

The exhibit was installed as part of Gay Pride Month and PrideFest activities. It was sponsored by Metropolitan Community Church and the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It went up the evening of June 4 and was removed the next morning after Wuerch heard about it. It was supposed to be up for 30 days.

The mayor personally reviewed the display and refused to allow it back in the library after deciding it was promotional and church-sponsored, and therefore violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

Plaintiff Dan Carter, a member of the PrideFest committee, said it's hard to understand what the mayor found wrong with the exhibit.

The exhibit contained posters and a rainbow-colored banner that said "Celebrate Diversity under the midnight sun." One sign said "Closets are for Clothes not People."

"I think really that his decision is out of fear," Carter said. "I think maybe it is he doesn't know gay people."

Rudinger said it's difficult to understand how the exhibit differed from others previously installed at the library, including ones on African-American history and Hispanic heritage.

"They weren't considered promotion so it is hard to conceive of how this one is any different," she said.

"Promotional to me is selling something," Carter said.

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