Ketchikan’s borough offices are in the White Cliff Building (KRBD staff photo)

Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly on Monday overrode a mayoral veto and restored a roughly $1,600 grant to a local LGBTQ organization. The controversial funding request for the Ketchikan Pride Alliance was the subject of intense public debate during a heated assembly meeting.

Residents packed the Ketchikan assembly chambers on Monday to discuss the controversial grant. The Ketchikan Pride Alliance applied for roughly $3,200 in funding for outreach events, including its annual Pride Picnic. The borough’s grants committee recommended funding half of the request but Mayor Rodney Dial rejected it.

The money is part of a roughly $390,000 package of grants to nearly two dozen local nonprofits in the borough’s budget for the next fiscal year. The assembly unanimously approved the deal last month.

Public comment on the issue was split evenly, with nine speaking in favor and nine against. Elizabeth Schultz was among those who asked the assembly to restore funding to the group.

“It’s estimated that over 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide every year, and that one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The data also shows that having at least one accepting adult reduces the risk of suicide by 40% and LGBTQ youth, and communities like ours that can be LGBT friendly have drastically lower suicide rates,” she said.

Others, including Laura Antonsen, said they didn’t think the organization should receive any public funding.

“By applying for taxpayer dollars, this group is basically insisting that the government sanctions, promotes and participates in their purpose,” she said.

Pride Alliance board member Ryan McHale said he believed the mayor had subjected the LGBTQ group’s request to greater scrutiny than other nonprofits.

“It appears that Mayor Dial is acting on a personal agenda and his own bias rather than making a decision on the merits of the application and seeing if it meets the needs and desires of the community,” he said.

Dial delivered a lengthy presentation explaining why he’d vetoed the roughly $1,600 grant. Among other things, Dial took issue with what he saw as political activism by the group’s members. He said funding them would lead other political organizations to ask for borough money.

“You should know if you approve this funding tonight, you will be opening the door to this and turning the grant process into a partisan circus,” Dial said.

The Pride Alliance denies the mayor’s claims. It says its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization prohibits political activity.

Dial also decried the group’s recent initiative distributing window decals to businesses that identify them as allies of the LGBTQ community. He said the sticker campaign amounted to a call for a boycott of businesses that didn’t display the decal. He also took issue with some of the content in the Pride Alliance’s Loud and Queer zine.

Assembly Member Judith McQuerry, who co-sponsored the veto override, interrupted Dial’s presentation midway through to register her dissatisfaction.

“The presentation that you’re presenting is unfair, uncalled for and full of inaccuracies, and I object,” she said.

The other co-sponsor of the veto override, Assembly Member Jaimie Palmer, said was open to reworking the borough’s grant process, but she said she believed the Pride Alliance was a worthy cause for the borough to support.

“If we have children who happen to see a document that is at the public library, a poster on the wall or something, is like, ‘Huh, you know, wow, that actually speaks to me,’ then that’s powerful. And if it allows them to say, ‘Oh, okay, maybe I’m not a weird kid, or maybe I’m not completely off,’ then we’re doing our jobs: enhancing the quality of life in this borough,” Palmer said.

Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum was the lone vote against the veto override. He said he wasn’t sure the Ketchikan Pride Alliance’s work aligned with the borough’s governmental powers.

“Going through this process, it makes me ask a lot of questions about what the intended purpose of our grants committee actually is,” he said.

The final vote was 6-1 to restore the Ketchikan Pride Alliance’s borough funding.