Discussion continues on controversial equal rights ordinance

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The controversial discussion over an equal rights ordinance continued Thursday morning with the Fairbanks City Council, as members completed a three day work session on the ordinance. This ordinance aims to create equal opportunities for people in regards to employment, housing and public accommodation, regardless of a person's race, ethnicity, age, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or national origin.

After hearing from professionals, legal experts, and housing specialists, over the last two days, it was time to hear from the people. Both those who oppose and support the ordinance were able to give their testimony. Jessica Vaudreuil and Rose O’Hara-Jolley were among those who gave comment.

"This ordinance is going to make another problem with people trying to figure out the law and confuse people more. We need less laws, not bigger laws,” Vaudreuil said in opposition of the ordinance, while O’Hara-Jolley gave more positive testimony.

"But the simple fact of the reality is as a queer person, what we're talking about is our basic rights to food, to safety, to shelter,” O’Hara-Jolley said.

The Fairbanks Diversity Council recently passed a resolution supporting Ordinance 6093 on Tuesday, suggesting to change the number of employees from 15 to four, which would be the maximum number of employees allowable for a business to be exempt from this equal rights law.

Jeff Walter is a representative from the Fairbanks Diversity Council. He also gave comment on the group’s suggestions.

“I think the Fairbanks Diversity Council would like to see more openness, more welcoming, more acceptance of people and so that's where we were coming from," he said.

After 50 minutes of public testimony on the equal rights ordinance, the council agreed to hold two more work sessions tentatively scheduled for February 4, 6 and the 7, with the 7 being reserved for further public hearing.

Juneau, Sitka and Anchorage have all passed and implemented anti-discrimination laws. However, Anchorage is currently facing a lawsuit filed by a faith-based women's shelter over a requirement that it accept transgender women.

The hour meetings on February 4 and 6 will be exclusively for council discussion, where the council hopes to produce a substitution of this equal rights ordinance for public input during its next two work sessions. The ordinance was originally postponed to the council's February 25 meeting for discussions like this.