Opinion: LGBTQ+ Alaskans deserve respect and dignity

Like every state that lacks equality, we need federal protection.

  • By Maureen Longworth
  • Wednesday, September 29, 2021 10:41pm
  • Opinion

By Maureen Longworth

In the ’90s, I asked George Rogers, one of the writers of the Alaska state constitution, what happened here in Juneau in the ’60s when gay men were sent away.

Everyone knew it was the police and their hired vigilantes who turned up on doorsteps without warning, often in the middle of the night. They escorted suspected homosexuals and their families to the ferry dock with a “blue ticket” for a one-way ferry and threatened never to return.

They purged our capital city of its LGBTQ+ community one by one. The banished individuals left their jobs, friends, careers, homes, cars and possessions and just disappeared overnight.

Back then, George said, there were no legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. All he could do was warn gay men to leave before they were caught and “blue ticketed.”

“Everyone knew it was going on, but there was nothing we could do,” Rogers said. “So, we stood silently and let it happen.”

When my spouse and I moved to Juneau nearly 30 years ago, I began collecting personal stories about gay men who disappeared back in the 1960s.

After more than 50 interviews with people connected to Juneau during the 1960s, the stories became the fabric for “Blue Ticket,” a historical fiction, romantic political thriller. These stories include a man who was interrogated with a lie detector because his roommate — a member of the Coast Guard — was suspected to be in relationships with men, and a beloved teacher who disappeared after his contract wasn’t renewed.

These breathtaking stories convey many tragic situations for LGBTQ+ Alaskans and the pain many endured. Sadly, the banishment of LGBTQ+ people is a universal history not unique to Juneau.

Most history books don’t include details on LGBTQ+ discrimination. It is not present in our national civil rights museums and has gone unmentioned for too long. And due to a lack of these stories, inequalities toward LGBTQ+ people continue.

Many don’t realize that LGBTQ+ people still don’t have federal protection for equal rights under the law, and discrimination happens regardless of where we live. Over the last five years, at least 40 LGBTQ+ military families were denied PFDs (Alaska state Permanent Fund Dividends paid to Alaskans annually).

Even though LGBTQ+ marriage is recognized legally in Alaska, the department issuing the dividends conjured up refusal language based on outdated regulations. Other states get away with their own ways of discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with no federal protections providing uniform treatment in medical care, emergency housing and shelter.

In addition, many older Alaskans are forced to reside outside the state due to medical conditions or special needs that come with aging. All LGBTQ+ people, including myself, have the added worry of not knowing where we’ll be welcome or where we can receive unbiased medical or personal care.

And victims of discrimination have no recourse to take on powerful corporations and employers, landowners and health care systems when there is no law to back them up.

George called the lack of LGBTQ+ protections in the 1960s shameful. I wonder what he would say if he were alive today and knew LGBTQ+ people in Alaska still did not have equal protections under the law.

For years, legislation for LGBTQ+ equal rights has sat at our state level, never making it out of committee or to the floor for a vote. Like every state that lacks equality, we need federal protection. Our representatives have the chance to make that happen.

Our representatives must support nondiscrimination protections at the federal level for LGBTQ+ Americans. These protections are long overdue and are critical for the health and well-being of our population.

• Maureen “Mo” Longworth, she/her, is a writer in all genres. Longworth began writing scripts when she was 8 years old, growing up in Los Angeles. While attending medical school at the University of California in San Francisco, she wrote, produced and directed “Turning Around,” a film about sexism in medicine, and later put it to film and video shown worldwide. Longworth became an international speaker and consultant on sexism. Now a retired physician living in Alaska, Longworth continues to write and work for her lifelong passions of justice and equality. Her play “Blue Ticket” is available for production through www.BlueTicketAlaska.com.

More in Opinion

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

As we honor the men and women who fell in service to our nation, we must keep their memories alive through their stories

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland
Reflecting on a year of growth and resilience

A message from the superintendent

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. (Courtesy photo/Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Honoring the 69 peace officers who have died serving Alaskans

Alaska Peace Officer Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty

Rep. Maxine Dibert (Image via Alaska State Legislature)
Opinion: The economic case for a significant investment in education

As our oil production and related revenue have declined, our investments in education have remained flat

Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion
Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019.
Don’t let the abundance of snow fool you; Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Last summer’s 590 wildfires burned more than 3.1 million acres in Alaska, about 41% of the total acreage burned in the U.S.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski in May 2019.
Opinion: Statewide sales tax just doesn’t make ‘horse sense’

Money for the dividend was meant to be sized after State government services obligations had been met

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Point of View: Big steps to strengthen child care system

Funding in the budget, statutory reforms and support from the administration are all necessary to strengthen the child care system in Alaska

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in which options for a long-range fiscal plan were discussed. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tax talk should be paired with PFD pragmatism

Alaska is 30 years into state budget deficits, borrowing billions from savings to pay the bills.

Opinion: Seafood Producers Cooperative responds to WFC ruling

“I want to convey our great disappointment…”