A ban on discrimination against LGBTQ people in Ketchikan is moving forward. The City Council voted to advance an ordinance after hearing hours of community testimony in support of the measure.
For some Ketchikan residents speaking at the Ketchikan City Council’s meeting, like local businesswoman Jaimie Palmer, the measure was a no-brainer.
“The anti-discrimination ordinance, that’s nuts. It’s 2020, what are we doing?” Palmer said.
But for some, the issue of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is personal.
“In moving to a new city, there is usually a mixture of uncertainty and excitement. But as a gay man, there’s an added fear of being targeted for my sexual orientation,” said Ryan McHale. He told the city council he’s relocated here to curate the city’s museums.
“The initial excitement of a job offer was short-lived,” he said. “I was hit with the reality that Ketchikan and the state of Alaska lack basic legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Though the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that employers can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, its impact in non-workplace settings — like housing and public-facing businesses — is less clear.
“This means that people can be denied access to these public places and services based on who they are or whom they love with little recourse. We have seen this in our own community.
He’s referring to a well-publicized incident in which a Ketchikan flower shop reportedly wouldn’t take an order for a same-sex wedding.
“It’s critical that the Ketchikan City Council ensures that our city is welcoming affirming, and most importantly safe for LGBTQ individuals,” McHale said.
McHale was one a dozen or so members of the public who spoke in favor of the proposal.
Jewelry store owner Jai Mahtani shared his own story.
“When I came here 29 years ago, I went to a barber shop to get a haircut. The person goes, I don’t cut hair of your kind,” he said. “So if you have to deal with anything tonight, don’t deal with everything pass that anti discrimination, article. We need it.”
Though classes like nationality, race and religion are already protected by federal and state law, they’re included in Ketchikan’s proposal.
Ketchikan’s state representative, independent Dan Ortiz, lent his support, as well.
“For me to stand silent, I think, is not appropriate. And so I just wanted to state that I’m in full support of the accounts that I’ve heard this evening by those folks,” Ortiz said.
No one spoke up to oppose the proposal. The Ketchikan City Council directed the city attorney to draw up an ordinance for the council’s next meeting.
Council Member Janalee Gage brought the proposal forward. She says she’s struggled with discrimination for decades after an accident left her disabled. Other communities have similar measures on the books, and…
“I think it’s time that Ketchikan join Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, and hopefully, maybe the state will catch up,” Gage said.
If eventually passed, its scope would be somewhat limited — it wouldn’t affect Ketchikan businesses outside city limits. The measure is scheduled to come back to the council July 2.