Anchorage chamber pushing for gay rights
A year and a half after Alaska’s largest city rejected a gay-rights ballot measure, the gay and lesbian community is being not only embraced but promoted from an unexpected quarter: the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE — A year and a half after Anchorage rejected a gay-rights ballot measure that deeply divided the city, the gay and lesbian community is being not only embraced but promoted from an unexpected quarter: the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
“I certainly know some will try to make this into a social commentary. The social debates are happening outside of what we’re doing,” said Andrew Halcro, the chamber president. “This is really focusing on the economy and the economic benefits of inclusivity.”
The chamber didn’t start the “commerce of diversity” initiative, but when Halcro, a former Alaska legislator and Republican gubernatorial candidate, was approached early this year, he saw the potential and things took off.
“They have credibility with the business community that, frankly, I don’t have and my community doesn’t,” said Mary Elizabeth Rider, who organizes a virtual women’s community that among other things publicizes events. Rider is part of the chamber-led diversity project. “It’s enormous, it’s powerful, and it cannot be underestimated. I’m thrilled.”
The initiative, now called One Anchorage, One Economy, is about “nondiscrimination at work, in rent, in home purchases, in all aspects of civic life,” said lawyer Glenn Cravez, who helped start it. Business leaders are trying to build public acceptance of what the ballot measure aimed to require by law.
On Monday, Justin Nelson, the president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, was featured speaker at the Anchorage chamber’s “Make It Monday” forum. The talk marked the first time Nelson has been invited to a mainstream chamber, but Halcro said he’s gotten no pushback.
The forum launched the chamber’s participation in a broader initiative — called Live.Work.Play — to make Anchorage the No. 1 city in America for quality of life by 2025. The chamber’s particular focus is improved schools and diversity.
Halcro and Nelson spoke last weekend at the Pride Conference at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Wells Fargo was the lead sponsor. Some conference sessions were focused around entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.
Wells Fargo, through its foundation, is investing $1 million over four years in the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber and supports its work through scholarships and business grants. The bank is one of the organization’s founding members and has been involved in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for 25 years.
“We believe building relationships and providing specialized services to LGBT customers is not only the right thing to do — it’s smart business, especially when you take into account the evolving demographics and buying power of the LGBT community,” David Kennedy, Wells Fargo’s Alaska spokesman, said in an email.
To lure more smart, young, creative professionals, economist Richard Florida from the University of Toronto told an economic development luncheon in January that the city needs a talented and educated population, good technology and a tolerant and diverse culture.
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan — who opposed the 2012 gay-rights ballot measure and vetoed an earlier equal-rights ordinance — was unaware of the diversity effort. Asked about it Friday, Sullivan said, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”