11:16: a.m. update: The Fairbanks City Council voted 4-2 to postpone final action on the ordinance until its Feb. 25 meeting.
FAIRBANKS — Opposing views, emotional testimony, occasionally coarse language, angry accusations and impassioned feelings and vulnerabilities dominated Monday’s Fairbanks City Council Meeting. The council chambers were standing-room only as the meeting kicked off at 6:30 p.m.
The draw was an ordinance creating equal rights legislation, which eclipsed ordinances approving a union contract and adopting the city’s 2019 budget.
As of press time, the council was debating the ordinance, and had not yet voted on how to proceed.
The ordinance would create eight sections of Fairbanks General Code, making it unlawful to discriminate based on a host of factors, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, ethnicity and more.
Per the ordinance, discrimination protections would be extended to employment, housing and public accommodations, including a cause of action for violations.
Exemptions are included for religious organizations and businesses, businesses with less than 15 employees and rentals that are part of the lessor’s private residence.
Originally sponsored by Council Members Kathryn Ottersten and David Pruhs, Mayor Jim Matherly and all remaining elected officials except Councilman Jerry Cleworth asked to become co-sponsors at the previous council meeting.
Supporters held symbolic Golden Heart signs with the message “commUNITY,” shared stories of discrimination, coming out and the belief that the ordinance exemplifies Fairbanks’ values.
Many of those against the ordinance were worried about losing religious liberty, while others felt it was simply unnecessary, burdensome and the heavy hand of government.
Bible verses were quoted both in opposition and support of the ordinance.
David Frey, a middle school safety coordinator for nearly two decades, said gender expression and sexuality are the most common causes for bullying. Frey said the ordinance’s language, while mainly directed toward adults, will influence youth.
“The equal rights ordinance is a written guide to our youth about how people, all people, should be treated,” he said.
Cheryl Beckley said it takes away business owner’s right to run their business as they see fit.
“I don’t think they should be discriminated against, but on the other hand you shouldn’t force me to compromise my beliefs and hire someone I don’t agree with,” she said.
Often the conversation hinged on ideological beliefs, with frequent forays into personal freedoms.
As the clock struck 11 p.m., nearly all the seats in the council chambers remained occupied as public comment entered into the third hour.
Current and former elected officials were among those providing testimony.
Former Borough Assemblyman Lance Roberts railed against the ordinance as creating special rights for a special group of people.
“You’re gonna start this war because you think government is God. But I will not bow to the knee, I will not worship you and the rules you set up,” he said.
Former Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said discrimination “is real, it’s happening, and that’s what government should do, protect individual rights.”
When a commenter said they’ve been discriminated against, another would voice public safety concerns for their children.
Regardless of the outcome, discussions on how and where the city should extend laws governing discrimination will likely resurface.
Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.