A second round of impassioned public testimony Tuesday night drew hundreds of people once more to the Anchorage Assembly meeting as the panel continued grappling with a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination in the municipality based on sexual orientation.
Fans and foes of the proposed law packed the Assembly chambers, listening as a steady parade of people walked to the front of the chambers for their few minutes of testimony before the Assembly. The crowd applauded when they heard something they liked, grumbled when they heard something they didn't and pretty much ignored Assembly Chairwoman Debbie Ossiander's pleas to hold off on the displays of reaction because it wasted time.
Outside Assembly chambers, hundreds on both sides of the proposed law held up signs, sang songs, chanted and waved at passing cars. Those opposing the ordinance were recognizable by their red shirts; many of those who favored the law wore blue to show where they stood.
"We know we're not going to change anyone's opinion here. We came to do battle," said Reuben Scheeringa, a teacher at Anchorage Christian School who brought dozens of teens, many of them from a church in the Lower 48, to take up positions outside Loussac Library, where the Assembly was meeting. His group stood opposed to the ordinance.
The public hearing was a continuation of proceedings that started last week and could go on for days more as there appeared to be no relenting in the emotional viewpoints that sought an airing. With three minutes allowed for each speaker, Ossiander anticipated more than 20 hours of public testimony would be needed to get through it all.
And that time estimate could grow as even more sign up to testify.
At the heart of the issue is what kind of the city Anchorage wants to be. Judging from the public testimony, gay rights have touched a nerve with Anchorage conservative Christians and have also brought out libertarians who don't want government telling them what to do. On the other side are progressives who believe there is discrimination in Anchorage and want to see it eradicated.
Just as the issue did when it arose decades ago, it is bitterly dividing the city but has also brought them together for the discussion before the Assembly. In line together in the middle of the Assembly chambers, waiting for their turns to speak, were transgender people standing beside those who likened them to pedophiles and miscreants.
Ossiander said there are currently three versions of the proposed ordinance on the table, though all three basically aim to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Once public testimony is over, the Assembly itself will begin debating the details of the law.
Praskova Kozar of Wasilla stood outside the entrance of the library Tuesday night holding an anti-ordinance sign. She and her three children came to the meeting in buses from the Valley provided by her church, Word of Life. "It's against God, and it says it in the Bible," she said in Russian, her words translated by her 14-year-old son.
Asked why someone from Wasilla should care about an Anchorage ordinance, she said, "Because it's a question for all Alaska."
Meanwhile, in front of the library facing 36th Avenue, ordinance advocates waved signs at cars and danced while a DJ blasted music from a makeshift setup. Michael Burke, a senior pastor at St. Mary's Episcopal stood with those supporting the ordinance.
"It would be very, very hard not to be here," he said. He talked about Christian values and "loving your neighbor as yourself ... and upholding the dignity of each and every person."
Burke said he had spoke with opponents of the ordinance on the back side of the library. "I think I make them uneasy," he said. "Jesus would be deeply troubled with what they are doing here."
Inside, the testimony ran late into the night until the Assembly ended the session shortly after 11. Of the 539 on the list to testify, about 195 had had their say by then over the two nights of testimony.
The Assembly planned to continue the hearing at 4 p.m. today.
Reach Megan Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4343.