As HB 17 Advances, LGBTQ+ Alaskans Wonder: Will 2022 Be the Year We Finally Win Equality?

JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska House Judiciary Committee this week passed HB 17, a measure that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws.
Bills that would add the LGBTQ+ provision have been introduced session after session for the past decade, but the matter has yet to make it to the floor of either house of the Legislature for a roll call vote. Supporters say 2022 is the year that will change.
“In previous years, we missed the opportunity to do the right thing and officially make Alaska the safe, welcoming and LGBTQ-friendly place we know it can be,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, the bill’s prime sponsor. “It’s past time to ensure that all Alaskans enjoy the security that many of us take for granted. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee who voted to advance this crucial piece of legislation that, at its core, stands for one of our most treasured Alaska values: the rights of all people to live freely with equal protection under the law.”
Reps. Matt Claman, Liz Snyder, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Harriet Drummond voted to advance HB 17, while Reps. David Eastman, Sarah Vance and Christopher Kurka voted in opposition. The bill is co-sponsored by Drummond, Snyder and Kreiss-Tomkins, as well as Reps. Grier Hopkins, Geran Tarr, Sara Hannan, Calvin Schrage, Ivy Sponholz, Andi Story and Zack Fields.
While local anti-discrimination ordinances cover Alaskans living in some of the state’s most populous communities, these piecemeal protections leave many Alaskans — and visitors — exposed to unequal treatment based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Currently, state statute prohibits discrimination based on “race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. HB 17 would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the existing list.
“No matter our differences, all Alaskans are entitled to the security of knowing that we can’t lose our jobs, our housing, or our families because of how we were born, where we worship, or who we love,” said Elias Rojas, board president of Alaskans Together for Equality (ATE). “This bill creates no new red tape or cumbersome administrative processes; it simply expands our existing protections to cover the last group left exposed — LGBTQ+ Alaskans. That’s probably why it enjoys such widespread popular support.” During a previous legislative session, members of the public testified three-to-one in favor of protections for LGBTQ+ citizens.
HB 17 will next move to the State Affairs Committee for consideration. Rojas encourages Alaskans to contact their representatives as well as members of State Affairs to express support for the bill.
“We know that the majority of legislators share the view of the majority of voters: It’s time to pass this bill,” Rojas said. “If we work together, we can make 2022 the year that we finally secure equality under the law for all Alaskans.”