By Laura Carpenter
This November, Americans turned out in record numbers to vote for change. The election of a president and vice president who have time and again expressed support for LGBTQ+ equality sends a clear message: Americans are ready to see their LGBTQ+ neighbors protected from discrimination and treated with dignity and respect.
As the executive director of Identity Inc., a statewide LGBTQ+ organization here in Alaska, I’ve seen discrimination wreak havoc on the lives of LGBTQ+ Alaskans. And as a parent, I know how important it is that my child and their friends and family feel affirmed and protected growing up in Alaska, no matter how they identify.
Equality is not a Democratic or Republican value, it’s an American value. I’m grateful that Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted in favor of employment protections for LGBTQ+ Americans in 2013, supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and has sponsored several other pro-LGBTQ+ measures. The Equality Act is an important next step. This common-sense, bipartisan legislation would update federal law to include express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for 13 million LGBTQ+ Americans across virtually every area of daily life. Everyone should be free to go about their daily lives — go into a store, check into a hotel, eat a meal at a restaurant — without fear of harassment or discrimination. It’s time to get to work to make that dream a reality.
Homeless Alaskans have been turned away from shelters simply for being transgender, and people have been denied housing because of who they love. Many LGBTQ+ Alaskans hide who they are at work to avoid similar discrimination. A friend of mine was fired on the spot after she mentioned to her boss that she had weekend plans to go to Anchorage Pride. We can do better.
Even though a supermajority of Americans support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections, we live in a country with critical gaps in our federal and state nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQ+ people. Alaska has failed to pass statewide protections for LGBTQ+ people despite growing bipartisan support in the state Legislature, and despite similar protections at the municipal level in Anchorage, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. Nationwide, we’re among a majority of states that still lack comprehensive, explicit protections, leaving millions of LGBTQ+ people vulnerable to discrimination.
A recent survey found that more than one in three LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than three in five transgender Americans. More than half of LGBTQ+ people said they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, transportation or a restroom. And while all LGBTQ+ people can be targeted by discrimination, we know that it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of our community — transgender people, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people of color, especially Black and Indigenous people.
Though the Supreme Court ruled this year that we are protected at work, it is still legal under federal law for stores, restaurants, and federally funded programs, including hospitals, colleges and adoption agencies, to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. In the middle of an economic and public health crisis, it’s unconscionable that LGBTQ+ people can still be denied housing or refused medical care — just because of who they are or who they love.
Like all Americans, LGBTQ+ people deserve to go about our daily lives free from fear of discrimination and harassment, but we can’t without state or federal laws on the books that protect us. The Equality Act would send the message that LGBTQ+ people like me are a celebrated and valued part of our society. We contribute to our communities, pay taxes, work hard, and deserve our shot at the American dream just like anyone else.
It’s time for Alaska lawmakers and members of Congress to do their jobs and fully protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. With new leadership in the White House, now is the time to act. Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan should stand with their constituents and commit support for the Equality Act.
Laura Carpenter (they/she) is the executive director of Identity Inc., a statewide organization that supports and advocates for the Alaskan LGBTQ+ community.