I arrived at around 4:30 to the Loussac Library yesterday and I was immediately confronted by a sea of red t-shirt wearing children. (Red is the color chosen by those opposing the ordinance.)
After I finally found a place to park, I walked through the crowd of teenagers and learned that they had been bussed in from Jerry Prevo's church, the Anchorage Baptist Temple. Most of these kids were of high school age, but there were a few that could not even have been out of elementary school yet. (You are never too young to learn to hate and discriminate.)
I entered the Assembly chamber and again was confronted by even more people inred t-shirts, these were older individauls who were there to bear witness and possibly testify. (According to Ethan Berkowitz most of the t-shirts were provided by Bailey's Home Furnishings. So if you need a couch in Anchorage you might do well to avoid the homophobic furniture store.) Most of the shirts were blank, but one lovely couple sported a matching set which read "God Bless America" on the front and on the back featured a quote from Genesis 132:3 "But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly." (Oooh snap! That will teach those gay people to love each other!)
It was then that I realized we were in for a very long evening indeed. And when I learned there were already over 180 people signed up to give testimony it only confirmed that fact.
Inside the chambers I noticed a number of young men grouped together in clusters (from their comments and open affection for each other I assume these were young gay men) as well as a few transgenders, and young lesbian women, but the majority was clearly visible as an ocean of red shirts that filled almost ALL of the available seats in the room.
It took a quite for the Assembly to finally work through the other business that was on the docket for this meeting, and though the meeting officially started at 5:00 the first testimony concerning the hot button ordinance did not start until around 6:30.
The testimony provided by the LGBT community was absolutely heart wrenching.
I heard story after story of open discrimination suffered by this minority of Americans, and it seemed almost every one of their testimonies ended in tears at the podium. I often found myself wanting to walk up and hug these total strangers and was gratified that there were those who did that very thing for many of them.
By contrast the testimony provided by the other side seemed more focused on the financial aspects of the ordinance (in that it may cost employers money to fight charges of discrimination, nice to know that they simply assume they will be breaking this law), or complain about how it infringes on their religious freedom (an argument that became harder to justify when a Catholic Priest stepped up to the podium to embrace this ordinance and to call for his fellow Christians to do the same.), or to talk about how it is unfair that this group of people are being given "special rights" rather than "equal rights". (I guess their idea of "special" means that not being kicked out of your home because of who you love or express that love, is a different kind of privilege that they do not enjoy themselves. When was the last time a heterosexual person was fired for loving a person of the opposite sex?)
The issue of the fear of bathroom use also came up a number of times. (No I am not kidding.)
One mother, resplendent in her red t-shirt and matching scarf, told the story of how her child was traumatized by a person, who she believed was a woman in the bathroom, after they said hello to her in a masculine voice. Apparently her little snowflake does not want to return to that particular mall anymore for fear of having her little bubble burst by learning that there are a lot of different kinds of people in the world. (Apparently the term "teachable moment" is unknown to this particualr group of parents,)
Those from the other side of the aisle also addressed the issue with one doctor explaining as clearly as she could that people considering a sex-change operation are required to live as a member of the opposite sex for a year, and to go through strenuous counseling sessions, before being allowed to have the operation. Of course these people are also encouraged to use the restroom of that opposite gender. (This is once again the confusion that many people have, thank you Anchorage Baptist Temple, between people who use the restroom to empty their bladder and the deviants who use it to prey on children. Transgender people are NOT pedophiles.)
One brave transgender female also testified before the Assembly even though she said it could mean the loss of her job or potential harassment. Her story was painful to hear as she told about a life of constant abuse, harassment, and even a savage beating by the police in another state.
I listened to testimony after testimony, becoming more and more frustrated by the pain in the voices of the LGBT community and the lack of compassion on the other side. I wondered several times how they could not be moved by what they were hearing, but even after five hours it was clear that they were never going to change their opposition to this ordinance. Jerry Prevo had sent them into the battle with one goal in mind and they were not going to let their leader down.
When I simply could not take it anymore I walked out of the room allowing another person waiting in the lobby to finally get their turn to hear the testimony for themselves. (The room had been closed to more occupants after it reached its capacity according to the fire codes.)
I found Shannyn Moore in the lobby and we decided it was time for a glas of wine and to decompress.
Outside we learned of an altercation that had occurred between a clearly drunk red shirt wearing protester and a young man holding an "Equality Now" sign.
Shannyn and I decided we had to speak to this young man and get his story.
Craig Miller shared that he had been holding his sign when a man walked up and said "Jesus hates you", Mr. Miller (probably not showing the best judgement) said "Fuck Jesus". This made the man mumble something that Craig did not quite hear. He asked the man what he had said and the man struck him with his open hand knocking off his sunglasses and breaking them.
The police immediately arrested the man in the red shirt and hauled his ass away.
My favorite part of this conversation was when Shannyn lectured the young man on decorum when addressing somebody that he disagrees with. 'Saying Fuck Jesus does not further your cause" she said, and the young man was forced to bow his head like a child who was getting a lecture for throwing snowballs at passing cars. Shannyn was very kind, but also quite firm that he needed to respect the beliefs of those he may disagree with if he wants them to take him seriously and hear his point of view. (This is something with which Shannyn always does a magnificent job.)
We met up with more friends at Villa Nova on International Airport Rd. (which has GREAT food by the way), had a few glasses of good wine and talked of the days events. We learned from friends still at the Assembly that there were over 350 people signed up to testify, and that the stated goal of the red shirt brigade was to prolong this testimony until Republican Dan Sullivan could take office later this month. (Which also indicates that these people are math challenged because right now the vote is about seven to three in favor of passing the ordinance, but when acting mayor Matt Claman retakes his seat after Sullivan becomes mayor the vote will be eight to three. Good plan there red shirts!)
AKM stopped by for a glass of vino and to decompress as well. It was clear that she had taken every single emotional testimony to heart and looked completely drained by the experience. We quickly got her some wine and some food and talked it out until all of us felt much better. Then one by one we drifted off to our keyboards to share our experiences with all of you.
I was surprised by how emotional the night had been and very gratified at the number of people who were willing to tell their very personal stories in the hopes of achieving human rights for ALL of the people of Anchorage.