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Saturday, September 23, 2017
HomeAlaska NewsBedbugs, comfort cats, transgender toilets — all end up at Rights Commission

Bedbugs, comfort cats, transgender toilets — all end up at Rights Commission

WHY THE APPOINTMENT OF DREW PHOENIX MATTERS

It was about the bedbugs. And yes, it was about the cats.

Bedbugs, three cats, some possibly developmentally challenged children, a family of publicly subsidized renters, a too-lenient landlord and an eviction notice all ended up in a collision of perspectives before the Alaska Human Rights Commission.

The cats (and the bedbugs) won.

The 2013 case illustrates why it is important who is appointed to the Human Rights Commission. The questions that commissioners face are formally adjudicated, and the judgments they make have profound impacts on people’s lives. (The panel is considered “quasi-judicial,” but in fact it does make case law by its decisions.)

In this situation, which we’ll call Bedbugs vs. Common Sense, a family of six moved into a rental unit managed by an Anchorage man who had several rentals as his business. The man didn’t allow pets on his properties, but he made an exception for this family. He said they could have their one cat. The mom was evidently very persuasive.

But soon the one cat became three cats. The landlord didn’t like it but he didn’t work hard enough to get them to get rid of the cats. He told them that he had only approved one cat. But he didn’t document that he tried to force them to downsize their litter.

Then, when the apartment became infested with bedbugs, he asked them to take their cats to a vet and have them certified as vermin-free. Mitigation for bedbugs is costly and he wanted to be sure the infestation didn’t return. None of the other units had bedbugs and none of the other units had pets. He was deducing the two were connected.

What the mom did instead was to bring back a letter from a psychiatrist saying these cats were comfort animals that were necessary for the well-being of three of her four boys, who have been diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Yes, that is now considered a disability — a mental disability.

Eventually the landlord said he wanted to remodel the unit from top to bottom and the family would have to move out. That’s when the mom took the case to the Alaska Human Rights Commission. She asserted he was picking on her kids’ comfort cats.

The commission found in favor of the mom. The family was allowed to stay, cats, bedbugs, and all. One member of the Human Rights Commission dissented, but she was outnumbered.

Drew Phoenix, in blue, is Gov. Bill Walker’s nominee for the Human Rights Commission. He is an LGBTQ champion. (Photo from Catholic Anchor newspaper)

THE ACTIVIST APPOINTEE TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

In February, Gov. Bill Walker appointed a person to the Human Rights Commission who has stated very publicly and unequivocally that he is an advocate for the expanded rights of transgendered people — those who have switched from one gender to another.

This activist was once a woman known as Ann Gordon, a Methodist pastor in Baltimore, MD.

From accounts in church documents, Pastor Gordon was well-loved by her congregation. But there’s little trace of Ann before she went through hormone treatment, invested in some psychological counseling and various surgeries, and emerged as Drew Phoenix, a man. That’s not as important as the fact that he has stated that he wants to be the face of transgender rights. He is a cause-driven activist.

It’s also his business now. Phoenix works as a diversity consultant out of Fairbanks. For a couple of years he served as the executive director of Identity, the pro-gay advocacy group in Alaska.

Identity hosts events such as one coming up in May-June: Alaska Youth DRAG Workshop,  “to create a community of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and their allies through the Art of Drag. The Workshop will be a 3 day…event celebrating gender expression, creativity, and performance. Through education, group activities, and socializing, we hope to empower the youth and further embrace themselves in order to be greater change agents in their communities. We will focus on character development, song choices, costuming, hair and make-up, and lessons in Drag Herstory. The third day will also end in a Variety Show, where participates will have the opportunity to share a performance with a live, all ages audience, during Pride Fest!”

Identity is very much an in-your-face group, and Phoenix is cut from the same cloth.

With Gov. Walker’s appointment and the approval of 31 members of the Legislature, Phoenix would be serving on the commission that would most likely make decisions about the gender-fluid world we are living in: Whether men should be allowed to use women’s bathrooms (or the reverse) and whether boys competing on girls’ sporting teams are playing fair. Whether a conservative Christian wedding photographer must take photos of a gay wedding, or a Muslim baker provide a wedding cake celebrating the union of the same gay couple.

Just as nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court are deeply vetted and examined about their beliefs and their past decisions, Phoenix should face scrutiny, because he has made activism his cause and he’s been stating his opinon on these matters for many years. He would bring a clear, self-avowed bias to the Alaska Human Rights Commission.

Must Read Alaska left a message for Drew Phoenix but has not heard back. It’s important that Alaskans know where he stands on the big issues he’ll likely face if confirmed. Right now, Alaskans don’t know for certain how he would judge issues, but a reasonable person can guess that based on his statements and his work as an LGBTQ activist and diversity consultant, he will favor sexual and gender identity rights over rights of faith.

And that’s a hill many conservatives will defend to the bitter end. It is a hill Phoenix must charge in his legislative confirmation process.

LAWS, REGS AND VOTER INITIATIVES

In Washington State, the Legislature didn’t act to open locker rooms and bathrooms to transgendered individuals, so the Washington Human Rights Commission there made the law through regulation.

In 2015, Washington guaranteed access to restrooms, locker rooms, and other such facilities according to an individuals sense of which gender they identify with, and that means all buildings, public and private.

In Anchorage, a two-year-old law on the books is being challenged by backers of a ballot initiative who want voters to decide whether people should use bathrooms according to what is on their birth certificates. The “Protect Our Privacy” initiative would restore bathroom order in a world where organizations like Identity are encouraging people to re-evaluate their gender identity on a daily basis.

Time will tell as to how Phoenix’s appointment fares in end-of-session legislative deal-making. That, in turn, will influence the outcome of a multitude of commission cases, such as those pitting Bedbugs against Common Sense and those pitting political correctness against private property rights, wedding services, and religious freedom.

Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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