In an ongoing battle in Alaska, local and national anti-LGBT extremist organizations have coalesced and stand poised to put up a hell of a fight to overturn Anchorage nondiscrimination protections passed in 2015.
Since then, these far right religious extremists have been quietly coordinating, expanding their network and courting the favor of officials in Alaska’s state and local governments.
Anchorage is again caught in the battle over LGBT nondiscrimination protections that has been ongoing for almost a decade. The latest effort is an anti-trans ballot measure, known as Proposition 1, scheduled for vote in April 2018. Similar to the hotly contested bathroom ban in Texas known as SB 6, Proposition 1 would require people in Anchorage to use public locker rooms and bathrooms that match the sex specified on their birth certificates.
At the center of the debate is the far-right Alaska Family Council (AKFC) and their lobbying arm Alaska Family Action (AKFA), who have been working in opposition to several iterations of nondiscrimination protections in Anchorage. The group gained widespread media attention in 2012 when they released a series of inflammatory and erroneous cartoons as campaign ads depicting transgender people. AKFA is at it again and is already escalating their rhetoric. Cartoon drawings have been traded for real life photos posted to the group’s Facebook page on November 14, singling out and attacking an actual trans person in order to drum up support for their campaign.
This most recent measure was introduced in March as a pared-down version of the earlier "Protect Our Privacy" initiative. This latest pushback comes in response to a 2015 law passed by the Anchorage Assembly, Ordinance 96, which updated the city’s nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Shortly after the law was passed, Alaska Family president Jim Minnery sent an email blast saying the group would be submitting “significant amendments” to the ordinance that would dismantle the legal protections for LGBT people. He added that he planned on enlisting the help of anti-LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In another email, Minnery highlighted ADF’s involvement in the initiative by touting a visit from “special guest” ADF president Alan Sears. In the past ADF has financially supported Minnery’s group, which has a long history of anti-LGBT activity, including successfully spearheading two anti-LGBT campaigns. His wife, Kim, is a current sponsor of the Anchorage Initiative.
Alaska Family, with the support of ADF, was a leader of the 2012 campaign to defeat Proposition 5, a ballot measure that would’ve extended nondiscrimination protection to LGBT people in Anchorage. Opponents of the proposition ran an ugly, but successful, campaign — peddling falsehoods about objectors facing possible jail time, airing anti-trans cartoon ads widely denounced as “stigmatizing” and “dehumanizing,” fear mongering about the dangers of Christian persecution, and peddling the debunked “bathroom predator” myth.
ADF played their part and authored a 20-page legal analysis at the request of Alaska Family. The report condemning the proposition was never released publicly but was detailed in the the Catholic Anchor, a magazine of the Anchorage Archdiocese. ADF’s senior legal counsel Austin Nimocks also spoke out against the proposition by making multiple media appearances stoking fears of Christian persecution and warning a large group of Alaskan pastors of its perils.
During the campaign, Minnery was accused of driving a wedge between Black and LGBT communities in Anchorage. He told local press that he was trying to refute the “myth” that “gay rights and civil rights for black are aligned.” The campaign came under fire after posting misinformation about voter registration on an election day Facebook post. These tactics proved successful, as it would take another three years before sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections were enacted in Anchorage.
It’s no surprise that ADF has remained active in Alaska since the 2012 ballot, continuing to work closely with the Minnerys and Alaska Family. In 2015, Alaska Family and ADF presented a series of “religious liberty” town halls “built to equip Alaskan ministry, community, and business leaders with the information and strategies they need to lawfully, tactfully, and gracefully stand for truth in the public square.” ADF provided legal representation for Kim Minnery and Alaska Family in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood. ADF also strengthened their entanglement with Alaska’s state and local government. ADF staff and allied attorneys have provided pro bono legal representation for state officials and local jurisdictions in several lawsuits.
In one such case, ADF is representing the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the borough over its invocation policy regarding prayer. ADF attorney Brett Harvey and ADF allied attorney Kevin G. Clarkson from Anchorage law firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson are co-representing the burough. ADF has agreed to provide pro bono legal services in the suit and in exchange the assembly has signed a contract that explicitly prohibits assembly members from making public statements about the case without ADF’s prior approval.
Previously, Clarkson and ADF attorney Steven H. Aden argued in defense the Alaska’s parental notification law on behalf of the state of Alaska and sponsor Kim Minnery of AKFC in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest challenging its constitutionality. Clarkson and ADF lost the case when the Alaska Supreme Court ultimately struck down the requirements in an opinion issued in July 2016.
As an allied attorney, Clarkson has donated over 10,000 pro bono hours to ADF, who rewarded him with its “Golden Service” and “Silent Watch” awards. Clarkson also received a $12,000 payment from the organization according to its 2013 form 990. Clarkson’s firm also received two payments totaling just over $80,000 from ADF in 2013 and 2015 for “general litigation” and their sanctity of life project. Additionally, Clarkson has fought the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission over housing discrimination protections for same-sex couples and filed an amicus brief in support of banning same-sex marriage through a state constitutional amendment.
Kerry Tasker photo