FAIRBANKS — More than 50 University of Alaska Fairbanks students and community members attended a Monday night forum on gender discrimination and a state bill that aims to stop it.
The panel on House Bill 139, authored by Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, was co-hosted by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance student group and the Interior Alaskans Coming Together community group.
It was attended by UAF Chancellor Brian Rodgers, Kerttula, Josh Decker, of ACLU Alaska, and UAF student regent Courtney Enright. All expressed support for the bill that aims to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity relating to employment, housing, public accommodations, financing and credit.
Rodgers said the university is already working to erase discrimination at UAF, pointing to the Board of Regents rule against it. He said he hopes that the bill won’t affect the university because it already eliminated discriminatory policies, but admitted that there’s always work to be done.
“It’s one form at a time that we fix it,” he said. “It will take time, but to the extent that we can have areas that we’re out of alignment of our stated goals point it out to us and we’ll fix it. I acknowledge that there are going to be further areas to go.”
Other people expressed hope that the legislation will improve attitudes to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in high school and other settings.
The bill got a single hearing during the 2013 Legislative session with majority Republican members taking shots at it asking about exceptions and whether it would protect heterosexuals from discrimination by LBGT community.
Kerttula was candid that the bill faces a steep, uphill challenge and that the battle to get it signed into law likely will extend beyond 2014.
“My goal is to go back and get another hearing next year,” she said. “I don’t know if we can get it out of the committee next session, but we’re probably talking another year after the election and winning more seats and seeing a more solid middle base.”
She said that the biggest fight won’t necessarily be against conservative members’ religious or political opposition, but a battle of educating people that discrimination does really occur.
One student asked how he and other young people can make their voices heard to legislators and other.
“I would speak from your heart and tell them how you would like to be treated,” she said. “Talk to who represents, who’d you vote for or against.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.