Local politicians shy away from gay parade

Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- What if Anchorage had a gay pride parade and no politicians came?

That may happen June 23 when a group called Identity Inc. hosts Anchorage's first such parade in more than 10 years. Organizers say they invited every Anchorage elected official and state legislator and the Alaska congressional delegation.

So far, some have expressed interest, but none has accepted.

Assemblywoman Anna Fairclough has to pick up her son from camp that day. Congress is in session until June 29, notes U.S. Rep. Don Young's spokeswoman. Assemblyman Allan Tesche said he hadn't received an invitation. And state Sen. Loren Leman said he doesn't need to give a reason why he won't attend.

''I just don't want to,'' he said.

That dismays some gay activists who say politicians should be expressing tolerance and an appreciation for diversity after the racially tinged paint ball attacks on Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage this year.

Jim Barnett and Dave Rose aren't surprised. Both are voices from Anchorage's political past who were caught up in an issue that has inflamed passions and controversy for 25 years.

Rose was defeated in a 1978 mayoral race after trying as an Assemblyman to pass an equal rights ordinance that included gays. Barnett lost a re-election bid to the Assembly in 1993 after supporting an ordinance that protected gay city workers from job discrimination.

''I think I'm exhibit one why you're not seeing any elected officials . . . doing it,'' Barnett said.

Lending their names to any event that supports gay rights still makes politicians nervous.

Anchorage Assembly member Tesche said he'd have to talk with his family and learn more about the parade before deciding whether to participate. Such an invitation puts an elected official in a tough position, he said.

''Certainly in the case of a gay rights group, I can imagine the religious right, or those who have traditionally been opposed to gay rights, would have quite a bit to say about an elected official's participation in a gay rights parade,'' Tesche said. ''That's the dark side of contemporary politics.''

Others, like Fairclough and Mayor George Wuerch, offer different reasons. Fairclough says she gets enough limelight on the Assembly and wouldn't participate in any parade. Wuerch says he expresses diversity through his policies, not events he describes as street demonstrations.

Even the pro-diversity group Bridge Builders doesn't plan to participate. The parade doesn't fit the group's mission of focusing on ethnic and racial issues, said Malcolm Roberts, president of the nonprofit organization.

While no politicians may have signed up yet, the parade will feature two former elected officials. Former Assembly member and state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski and former state Rep. Katie Hurley have been named the parade's grand marshals.

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