A sign welcomes people to Kenai United Methodist Church on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign welcomes people to Kenai United Methodist Church on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

It’s time for a federal law against LGBTQ discrimination

When my wife and I decided to move to Alaska, we wondered if we would be welcome in our new neighborhood.

By the Rev. April Hall

I moved to Alaska two years ago to serve as a pastor at Kenai and North Star United Methodist Churches in Kenai and Nikiski. Like so many others who relocate here, I immediately fell in love with the Kenai Peninsula. Its rugged peaks and wide-open skies took my breath away. But the true beauty of this place is in its spirit. In Alaska, we stand for giving everyone the freedom and space to be themselves. That’s why I feel hopeful that we will continue to move forward in our understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people on the Peninsula and across the state.

When my wife and I decided to move to Alaska, we wondered if we would be welcome in our new neighborhood. We had to consider that we might face discrimination from people who don’t support the LGBTQ community. Like many LGBTQ couples, we sometimes don’t feel safe holding hands or showing affection in public – and we know that we might be harassed or denied service just because of who we are. These are the kinds of uncertainties that LGBTQ people across the country face on a regular basis.

Right now in Congress, we have the opportunity to pass a federal law to protect 13 million LGBTQ Americans across virtually every area of daily life. It’s clear that Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan believe in protecting our freedoms as Americans. I’m asking them to support a bipartisan path forward on clear, comprehensive, and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states. All of us should have the freedom to go about our daily lives – go into a store, check into a hotel, eat a meal at a restaurant – without fear of harassment or discrimination.

The reality is that discrimination is still common.

While some cities, such as the City and Borough of Juneau bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression, Alaska is one of 29 states without an explicit and comprehensive statewide law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. While 21 states and over 350 cities, including Anchorage, have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, this patchwork of protections is unsustainable and leaves too many of us behind. A recent survey found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans.

The Kenai Peninsula has moved forward in its acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Our church flew a rainbow flag this April for Pride month. However, there is still work to do. People have been attacked on our streets just for being themselves. I’ve received harassing calls at work, and I worry about the safety of my LGBTQ neighbors. I lose sleep wondering if my daughter will get bullied or targeted at school for having two moms. There is still a thin line to walk, and the truth is that many people like me don’t feel comfortable in this community.

I have so much hope that this can change. In my work as a pastor, I often meet people who want to have a conversation about my identity. I hear things like, “I love you and your family, but I don’t understand what you’re doing.” While this can be discouraging, I see it as a positive sign that people who are still learning about their LGBTQ neighbors still love us and share basic dignity and respect. It’s important for us to have these conversations.

I’ve found that it’s best to meet folks where they are in their support and understanding of the LGBTQ community. With time, people come to see that the LGBTQ community is like everyone else, in that we just want respect, and to be contributing members of our community. All of us are on a journey of growth and change in life. Through God’s grace, those who aren’t supportive of us can learn how to see things differently.

It’s time for Congress to work together on a solution to discrimination nationwide. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan have an opportunity to show LGBTQ Alaskans that they belong here. Their leadership would go a long way. We deserve to know that our government supports us in having the same opportunities and freedoms as all Alaskans – being ourselves, loving our home, and loving our communities.

• The Rev. April Hall and her wife are proud residents of Kenai, Alaska where she serves as a United Methodist pastor.

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