Jenkins: Prop. 1 aims to fix lousy public policy
By Paul Jenkins |
Voters in Anchorage’s first-ever mail-in balloting are being asked, among other things, to change municipal code that provides anti-discrimination protection for transsexuals based on their professed “gender identity.” It should, of course, be “sex identity,” but that ship apparently has sailed.
Proposition 1 on the April 3 ballot is only the most recent iteration of a long, loud, bitterly fought battle to add or deny discrimination protections for transgender people in “the sale or rental of real property, financing practices, employment practices, public accommodations, educational institutions, and practices of the municipality.”
The lengthy proposition does not mention sexual orientation. In the most general sense, it calls for biological guys to use guys’ restrooms and facilities and biological girls and women to use restrooms and facilities designated for them. That does not sit well with some, who dismiss Proposition 1 proponents as ignorant rubes and religious zealots. Not everybody agrees.
In 2012, 40,223 voters trooped to the polls in an election that saw an unusually large turnout — 35 percent — and rejected Proposition 5, a ballot question that asked whether the city should include protection from discrimination based on “sexual orientation or transgender identity” in its civil rights ordinance.
The Assembly three years later voted 9-2 to ignore that vote and amended the ordinance to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said at the time it was a move toward a “just” society.
There was an effort in 2016 to repeal the ordinance. Then-City Attorney Bill Falsey slow-rolled the referendum language and it died. And here we are again.
Part of the problem with what has become known in some circles as the “bathroom law” is that many fear its “gender identity” language. Nothing in it begins to assuage those fears.
The 2015 ordinance defines gender identity as “a person’s gender-related self-identity, as expressed in appearance or behavior, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.” In other words, you are, in large part, whatever you say you are if you stick to your story.
The ordinance stipulates gender identity can be “established by evidence of medical history, care or treatment of the gender identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity, or other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held, core to a person’s gender-related self-identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose.”
For too many, all that is problematic, especially if you were, say, trying to decide — and right now — whether to allow a person who looks very much like a man but who says he “self-identifies” as a woman to enter your daughter’s locker room.
How in the blink of an eye do you know what is true and what is not; how are you expected to weigh the likelihood of “improper purpose”? All you know is that you have someone you think is a guy trying to go into the girls’ locker room. How are you to know his medical history, or whether his claimed gender identity is “consistent and uniform,” or whether his claim is “sincerely held”? Are you supposed to simply take the individual’s word?
The city’s amorphous definition of “gender identity” in its feel-good ordinance can — and apparently does — lead to problems. How could it not?
Take, for instance, the Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based, nonprofit shelter for abused, homeless women. It now is the target of a discrimination complaint, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The complainant, a man named Samantha A. Coyle, in his Feb. 1 complaint claims the shelter refused service twice in January because “I am female and transgender …”
For its part, the shelter contends the complainant was denied entrance because he was intoxicated and came to the facility when it was closed. It also counters it is not a “public accommodation” as claimed in the complaint, is not covered by the current ordinance and would not house a biological man under any circumstances.
Whether the Downtown Hope Center or any other refuge for abused or homeless women are exempt from the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance remains unclear. That question likely will be sorted out by a judge far into the future.
The ordinance’s loose language pertaining to “gender identity,” and how it is established, largely was unnecessary and opened the door to conflict, confusion and misinterpretation. It makes it far too easy for the unscrupulous to weaponize the law or take advantage.
Whether voters in this election again will opt to dump the protection afforded gender identity remains to be seen. What is obvious is this: No matter your feelings on the issue, what we have now is poorly crafted, poorly understood public policy.
Only hand-wringers and those benefiting from it believe it is just.