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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


No orientation discrimination

The University of Alaska appears poised to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, just months after Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed an effort to do so on the city level.

The Board of Regents expects to vote today on adding sexual orientation to the university’s nondiscrimination policy. All the testimony on Thursday was in favor of the change.

University of Alaska students, faculty and staff members have been pressing the Regents for more than 20 years to ban discrimination against gays. The Regents voted on the idea over the course of four years in 1990s, rejecting it each time.

But it’s different this time. University of Alaska President Pat Gamble says it needs to happen and has formally recommended the Regents make the change.

The University of Alaska already provides benefits to the same sex partners of its employees.

The Regents took testimony Thursday at UAA, and more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the policy change.

“”It would give me hope that future generations at our school would feel more safe and welcome,”” said Katrielle Bruce, a junior at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

But she and several others also said they didn’t think the proposal went far enough. They said transgendered people are especially discriminated against and gender identity should also be included on the non-discrimination list.

Among those testifying was Drew Phoenix, a transgendered Methodist minister who was born Ann Gordon and has had sexual reassignment surgery.

“”I assure you I am not one of a kind, that there are many university students, faculty and staff who are experiencing the disconnect that I have felt, along with the subsequent discrimination and violence, because they are not protected by nondiscrimination policies like the one being proposed here,”” he said.

Mark Faller, a philosophy professor at Alaska Pacific University, a private college adjacent to UAA, described the decision as an ethical test for the Regents.

“”One day, some 20 years or so hence, a son or granddaughter will query you in a naive confusion, as to how it could ever be the case that people are abused and denied protection just because of how they were born or who they love,”” Faller told the UA Regents.

The Regents will take public testimony again this morning and are expected to vote on the policy change later in the day. The overwhelming support among those who testified Thursday was a big contrast to the angry debate when a measure to ban discrimination against gays came before the Anchorage Assembly.

There were weeks of loud, contentious public hearings this summer over the proposal, which sought to ban discrimination in employment, credit, public accommodations and housing. The Assembly passed the measure but Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it.

Gamble said adding sexual orientation to the university’s nondiscrimination policy wouldn’t cause much of a cost or administrative change.

He said some gay students have suggested they want a policy change to offer protection from criticism or being called sinners. But that’s a misunderstanding of what the university’s nondiscrimination policy does, he said.

“”Enhancing basic legal protection for homosexuals will not allow the university to silence homosexuality’s critics,”” he said. “”To the contrary, the university’s discrimination policy exists alongside its formal, and Constitutionally required, commitment to free speech. It will be important to recognize the fact that adding these significant words to our discrimination policy will not, and cannot, prevent protected free speech, even speech which many find offensive.””

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