Alaska is one of 12 states nationwide where neither the state nor any of its municipalities bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. That may change Tuesday—after a rancorous debate—as such a law heads to a vote here in Alaska’s largest city.
For the past four months, this city of 292,000 people has been engulfed in a bitter back-and-forth over Proposition 5, which would outlaw discrimination in employment and housing against gay men and lesbians, and also extend protections to people of transgender identity.
While Anchorage’s Assembly, as the city council is called, approved such an antidiscrimination ordinance in 2009, Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it that same year. That prompted supporters of the measure to take the unusual step of getting Proposition 5 on Tuesday’s ballot.
Campaigns for both sides have been saturating Anchorage’s airwaves with ads either pushing the measure or slamming it. Opponents say Proposition 5 ultimately could open the door to same-sex marriage statewide. Supporters say they are focused only on the measure in Anchorage and point out the proposal says nothing about gay marriage.
“It’s a hornet’s nest, and has gotten ugly,” said Jim Minnery, chairman of Protect Your Rights, a nonprofit group that is leading the fight against Proposition 5.
Trevor Storrs, a spokesman for the One Anchorage Campaign, a nonprofit backing Proposition 5, accused Mr. Minnery’s group of “dehumanizing” gay and transgender people through a TV ad campaign.
In the ads, a cartoon figure of a man with hairy legs and stubble on his face is seen wearing a dress and lipstick and going into a women’s bathroom, eliciting screams. Another man, also in dress, is shown applying for a job as a day-care worker and walking hand in hand with a toddler.
The ad campaign “just encourages hate and violence,” Mr. Storrs said.
Mr. Minnery defended the ads. “The language in the [proposed] law is vague and this is what could happen,” he said.
Tony Wagner, regional field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit gay-rights advocacy group in Washington D.C., said that while such antidiscrimination moves can generate controversy, the Anchorage campaign is among the more rancorous. He added that it is highly unusual for supporters to have to go through a local ballot initiative to pass such protections.
“This is one of the most unusual campaigns I’ve seen,” Mr. Wagner said.
A poll released last week by Dittman Research & Communications of Anchorage showed Proposition 5 winning by a margin of 50% to 41%, with 9% of respondents undecided. The independent poll surveyed 500 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.
If Proposition 5 passes, Anchorage would join more than 160 cities or counties nationwide that have local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, about double the number from five years ago, according the Human Rights Campaign. Omaha, Neb., and South Bend, Ind., passed similar protections earlier this year.
A number of other municipalities protect gays and lesbians against bias but don’t include transgender people.
Proposition 5 has become an issue in the mayoral race here, which also will be decided Tuesday. Mr. Sullivan, a Republican seeking a second term, said he vetoed the antidiscrimination ordinance because there was no evidence of such discrimination.
“To this day, I still have not seen anything to document there is a problem,” said Mr. Sullivan.
But dozens of gay men, lesbians and others testified at 2009 public hearings about facing discrimination in housing and jobs. Drew Phoenix, a transgender man, said his application to rent an apartment in Anchorage in 2009 was rejected by three landlords after the landlords learned he was born a girl.
“There was nothing I could do about it, no place I could go,” said Mr. Phoenix, 53, managing director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which supports Proposition 5.
Paul Honeman, an independent who is running against Mr. Sullivan, said he hopes his support of Proposition 5 will help overcome Mr. Sullivan’s advantage of being an incumbent.
“There are some bigoted, small-minded people, unfortunately,” said Mr. Honeman, an Anchorage assemblyman and retired city police officer. “That’s why we need laws.”
The Dittman poll found Mr. Sullivan leading Mr. Honeman 56% to 35% among registered voters.