USUAA failed to pass a resolution out of committee against the upcoming “bathroom bill” on Oct. 24.
This initiative, which will appear on the Anchorage municipal ballot in April 2018, is titled “Regulating Access to Facilities Such as Locker Rooms and Bathrooms On the Basis of Sex at Birth, Rather Than Gender Identity.” It proposes that public restrooms and changing facilities in buildings owned or operated by the Municipality of Anchorage be used only for people of the same sex.
Under this ordinance, employers and businesses “may establish and enforce sex-specific standards or policies concerning access to ‘intimate facilities,’ such as locker rooms, showers, changing rooms and restrooms.” Additionally, this proposition advocates for deletion of a requirement in Municipal Code that allows people to use these public facilities according to their gender identity.
USUAA senators Nate Graham and Morgan Hartley wrote the resolution to urge University leaders and officials, such as the UA Board of Regents, President Jim Johnsen and UAA Interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich, to support transgender students and uphold the current bathroom policy.
“USUAA has a history of proposing resolutions and putting forward statements on community issues like this that affect UAA students,” Hartley said.
Some people would say that the student government organization is supposed to be nonpartisan, Graham said, but those kind of remarks are usually made in protest.
“We advocate policy issues that are in our interest all the time,” Graham said. “It’s really just a tool used by people that oppose these political views to silence them or to not have real-life issues be heard.”
Nonpartisanship is not explicitly stated or mentioned within the USUAA constitution and bylaws. Still, the organization aims to be representative of the student body and have its best interests in mind.
For Hartley, writing this resolution against Proposition 1 was essential, regardless of its political controversy.
“Even if you are a nonpartisan organization, you can still educate people on any subject,” Hartley said. “I’m president of the Political Science Association and in our constitution, we have to be nonpartisan. That doesn’t mean that we can’t educate people on things.”
Each proposed resolution by assembly members must go through a process in order to make it to the floor and on the meeting agenda for a vote. It has to be evaluated by different committees, as well as the executive committee, before going to the floor.
On Tuesday, the Student and Academic Affairs Committee returned the resolution back to Graham and Hartley for several reasons.
Among them is the presence of other high priorities, especially the concerns surrounding UA’s proposed tuition increase for the system.
“First, voting on Proposition 1 occurs in April, which is during the spring semester. We feel that as a body, there are issues such as the Board of Regents public testimony and the potentially proposed tuition increases that would need our immediate attention this semester,” Gabrielle Agtarap, USUAA senator and member of the SAA Committee, said.
UAA is also run by the State of Alaska, where a municipal ordinance like Proposition 1 would have no jurisdiction. The Board of Regents also already has regulations and policies against sexual and gender-based discrimination.
Despite those existing regulations, it can become a slippery slope. Hartley said that the proposition “opens up a legislative door that would allow for that [UA policy] to be changed.”
Graham is still concerned that students can be affected in situations where the University and Municipality cross paths.
“The Municipality of Anchorage owns the Sullivan Arena and UAA uses that facility for hockey,” Graham wrote in an email to the SAA Committee. “The [National Collegiate Athletic Association] has boycotted holding events in cities and states that have passed legislation like this.”
This boycott, which took place in North Carolina, was in response to the state legislature’s own “bathroom bill.” The organization decided to relocate seven of their 2016-2017 championship events out of the state.
Yet, not all USUAA members believe that students and the university should participate in legal matters and state politics.
“The purpose of USUAA is to represent student needs and wants. I do not feel that it is our place to dabble in municipality and city politics,” Senator Caleb Berry said.
There are a number of advocacy groups supporting or opposing Proposition 1. Alaska Family Council, a Christian public policy organization, backs the initiative while Fair Anchorage, a coalition comprised of businesses and other groups, is urging voters against it.
Berry recognized the political climate surrounding the proposition and said that USUAA cannot be certain what students want.
“To be honest, Proposition 1 is a highly contingent and controversial issue,” Berry said. “Who are we to say that university students want Proposition 1 to be defeated or passed? There seem to be people on both sides.”
Although the resolution did not make it out of the SAA Committee and to the assembly floor, Graham hopes that Proposition 1 will be addressed in the future.
“Maybe people will want to take this issue up in a few months,” Graham said. “I hope that USUAA takes a position on this issue.”