Legislature fails to confirm transgender man to Human Rights Commission

Published: May. 16, 2017 at 7:27 PM AKDT
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In a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, lawmakers failed to confirm the appointment of Drew Phoenix to the Alaska Human Rights Commission. The afternoon vote was 24 in favor and 35 opposed to Governor Bill Walker’s nominee.

“Mr. Phoenix is transgender. That’s the thing people don’t want to talk about. He makes no secret about it and I don’t think we should judge him for that,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski on the floor before the vote.

Several democrats spoke in support of the nominee. Two republicans voiced opposition, not because of his gender identity, but because of his past work with the American Civil Liberties Union and support of an Anchorage proposition expanding anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and transgender identity.

“A lot of it is there’s no problem with being an advocate. There’s probably no problem there at all until you get on that commission then you want to look at protecting all rights,” said Senator John Coghill.

Phoenix’s confirmation was also opposed by Alaska Family Action. An email from the group reads, “You may remember Drew: the former ACLU employee, transgender activist, and spokesperson for the anti-religious freedom Proposition 5 in 2012."

Phoenix was working in Fairbanks at the time of the vote. He feels the decision was not based on his qualifications but on who he is.

“I feel what happened today way blatant discrimination based on the fact that I’m a transgender man,” said Phoenix. “So what happened today is indicative of a continuing problem of discrimination in Alaska.”