Support for House Bill 99 displayed during public testimony

House Bill 99 aims to codify discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity
House Bill 99 aims to codify discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 4:02 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Facing a month of many changes, Alaska’s LGBTQ community has seen various actions from the State of Alaska that impact them. House Bill 99, if passed, would amend Alaska’s discrimination laws to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. On March 20, the House Labor and Commerce committee heard public testimony on the bill.

A large proportion of those providing testimony expressed support for the bill. They shared stories of hardship and discrimination that they have experienced firsthand as a member of the LGBTQ community or they shared the stories of people they know that faced discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Of those speaking in support of the bill, many mentioned high rates of suicide and self-harm faced by the LGBTQ community.

Public testimony began with four invited speakers, all coming from Alaska’s southern regions. One of the invited speakers, Josh Smith, is a veteran currently living in Anchorage, who also grew up on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. Smith spoke about his experience as a soldier in the Air Force. He discussed the difficulties and discrimination he faced serving under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. This policy allowed LGBTQ soldiers to serve their country as long as they did not open up about that aspect of their identity. Smith said the distress he faced during this time resulted in a deterioration of his mental health and he eventually “attempted to take his life,” said Smith. Despite a lack of protections for LGBTQ people in Alaska’s laws, Smith decided to remain in Alaska after serving in the Air Force for ten years. However the veteran continued to hide his sexual orientation as he settled down into civilian life in Alaska. Smith expressed support for the bill hoping others will not face the struggles he has due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

From the non-invited testimony, one man testified on behalf of Planned Parenthood Alliance Alaska or PPHA. The man representing PPHA said the organization supported the bill. PPHA said the bill was vital for providing better economic opportunities and health outcomes.

Testifying online, KC Casort expressed support for the bill. “I first started following a version of this bill in 2015 as a West Valley High School student,” Casort said. She began supporting legislation for LGBTQ protections when she was 15-years-old and living in Fairbanks. “It’s been almost a decade,” said Casort, expressing her frustration of how long she has seen similar legislation fail.

A smaller group of people spoke in partial support of opposition of the bill with it’s additions of sexual orientation or gender identity. Mike Coons called the bill “woke garbage.” He said adding sex to the bill, was good because it would align state laws with national laws. However, he said adding gender identity did not fit with scientific definitions and it shouldn’t be included. Other’s in opposition echoed Coons’ statement that gender identity did not fit in with the scientific definition of sex and the language should not be added to the bill.

Despite the large amount of support expressed during public testimony, Robert Hockema said even if the bill gets passed, the bill would “inevitably be vetoed by the governor.”