New anti-discrimination bill proposes housing protections for more Alaskans

A proposal from Rep. Jennie Armstrong, D-Anchorage, would ban discrimination based on sex or gender identity

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Jennie Armstrong, one of three newly elected LGBTQ members of the Alaska Legislature, has introduced a new proposal to ban housing discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.

House Bill 99 was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Labor and Commerce Committee.

The bill’s introduction on Wednesday came days after the Anchorage Daily News published an article noting that the state of Alaska had dropped a policy that banned most forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people here.

Armstrong said this week that the timing was coincidental — since she took office this year, the anti-discrimination bill has been a priority, and in the coming weeks, she hopes to make an economic and business case for the change.

“I think that there’s a gut reaction that people have when they hear ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘abortion.’ Those are just two issues that are just throwing a grenade,” she said.

“I keep telling folks that this is not a social issue in the same way that child care is not a mommy issue. And so I’m really looking forward to making the case in labor and commerce, that non-discrimination is a business issue, that it’s a military issue, that it’s an economic issue,” Armstrong said.

Twenty-three states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia have laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An additional seven interpret existing law to cover those topics, and one state, Wisconsin, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation only.

Though no federal anti-discrimination law explicitly covers LGBTQ Americans, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has interpreted the federal Fair Housing Act as banning that discrimination.

That’s based on a 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found the federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity in the definition of sex.

The HUD interpretation provides some legal protections in Alaska, but Armstrong noted that it could be temporary — a court ruling or a change in federal administrations could change the current interpretation.

In addition, filing an anti-discrimination complaint through a federal process can be laborious, and a state-level process could give victims quicker action.

Some of Alaska’s local governments, including Juneau and Anchorage, have passed local ordinances banning discrimination based on gender identity, but many communities, including in Interior Alaska and rural Alaska, have not.

In a news conference with reporters on Wednesday, Armstrong noted that members of the military don’t have a choice about where they’re deployed.

If they end up in Fairbanks, North Pole or nearby communities, the housing website Zillow displays a warning message noting that discrimination is legal there. Fairbanks’ city council did approve an anti-discrimination measure in 2019, but the mayor at the time, Jim Matherly, vetoed the ordinance and it has not been revived.

“I believe all Alaskans want their neighbors to feel safe and welcome,” Armstrong said. “In making people feel safe, they will feel like Alaska is a place where they want to stay, and businesses will feel like this is a place where they can confidently invest and know that their own employees won’t be discriminated against.”

The is a donor-funded independent news organization in Alaska.


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