BREAKING NEWS: BOR APPROVE the motion to add anti-discrimination clause

Photo by Patrick McCormick

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Public testimony was deeply personal last week as the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents heard members of the community regarding a motion to add sexual orientation as a protected class to the anti-discrimination policy.

“I have faced harassment and discrimination, been denied housing when I was otherwise qualified and refused medical care because of who I am,” Drew Phoenix, an Anchorage resident, told the board on Thursday.

After two days of testimony, the Board of Regents (BOR) approved the motion to add sexual orientation to the University of Alaska’s anti-discrimination clause.

The approval came after students, alumni, members of the community and several members of the UAA club The Family testified, often with much emotion.

Although most testimony was focused on the experiences of the person testifying, Mark Faller, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at Alaska Pacific University, took a different approach.

“One day some twenty or so years hence, a son or granddaughter will query you in the naive confusion as to how it could have ever been the case that people were abused and denied protection just because how they were born or who they loved,” Faller said.

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In a challenge to the board, Faller said their choices were either to do the right thing or else remain morally blind.

And after nearly two hours of testimony, the motion took less than ten minutes for the BOR to discuss and approve the motion.

During the discussion, UA President Patrick Gamble praised the hard work of the students who brought the issue to the BOR, calling them persistent, thorough and responsible.  Student Regent Ashton Compton was also singled out for her hard work on the issue.  Gamble also said that although research indicated the motion was in order, approving the motion was also a symbolic act for the university.

 

“I think for this university the positive energy and goodwill that it will generate is not insignificant,” Gamble said.  ”I just think it’s time Mr. Chairman.”

Regent Kirk Wickersham echoed the President’s comments.

The motion passed with only two dissenting votes, those of Board Chairman Fuller Cowell and Regent Kenneth Fisher.

Fisher opposed the motion based on a conflict he believes it creates with the Alaska State Constitution, which calls for all persons to have equal rights, opportunities and protections under the law.

“I am having a hard time justifying everybody treated equal to establishing a protected class.  Personally I find it in conflict with our constitution,” Fisher said.

In fact, race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, veteran status, physical or mental disability, marital status, pregnancy or parenthood were already protected classes listed in the anti-discrimination policy.  Friday’s vote added sexual orientation as another protected class.

Many students and community members who testified were also advocating to add another protected class, gender identity.

“When I was born, the doctor’s took one look at me and declared that I was a girl,” said Drew Phoenix.  “The gender I was assigned at birth did not match how I felt inside.”

Describing his personal journey align his physical body with his gender identity, Phoenix was among many who requested the board also add transgendered individuals as a protected class.  Those who testified noted research that showed transgendered individuals face the most discrimination as compared to other classes.  During the short discussion before the vote, amending the motion to included gender identity was not mentioned.

In contrast to other motions passed by the board such as land grant endowment and health care plan modifications, this motion garnered reaction from the audience.  Immediately following the vote that won by a margin of eight to two, the room filled with applause.