Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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Hey, No on 5: How about campaigning on the truth?

Leading up to the vote on Proposition 5, I’ve become very popular among the Christian anti-gay crowd. Call me the city’s first gay anti-gay poster girl.

Over at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, Jerry Prevo told his followers all about me two Sundays ago. He’s a gifted orator, but the sermon was a little off in the logic department.

He opened up by arguing that discrimination against gay people doesn’t exist. They’ve come so far, he said. Look at their high incomes. They are actors and politicians and reporters. Julia O’Malley, you know her? She wrote once that her experience as an openly gay person in Anchorage wasn’t bad. So why do these people want a law to protect them? He asked the room to applaud my honesty. They all clapped.

After arguing that discrimination didn’t exist, Prevo made the same case for discrimination that he’s been making for decades. It boiled down to this: being gay is a choice and an abomination in the Bible. Gay people are unhealthy and abuse children. For those reasons, people should have the right to fire or deny them housing. There was also an imaginative foray into what transgender people might do in the bathroom, but I’ll spare you. It came down to a war on religion, he said. If we pass an ordinance to protect gay people, then he could get thrown in jail for preaching.

If you have a passing understanding of the Constitution, you know that last part in particular is pure bull. Not sure where he got the idea that what I’ve written reflects the experience of all gay people in Anchorage. But the words he used come from a 2009 column written at the beginning of an earlier torturous debate about equal rights protections for gays and lesbians.

What Prevo doesn’t say is that what I wrote also dealt with political threats he made against my grandmother and my mother for working on behalf of gays. The column also talks about how somebody burned a cross in my grandmother’s Nunaka Valley front yard.

Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, is also fond of slicing a few sentences out of my column and using them as part of his anti-gay campaign. He likes to say I have said Anchorage is a tolerant community. He likes to tell people that for me, coming out as a teenager was mainly positive. He likes to say that no one tried to deny me a house or a job here.

He likes to use all of this to argue that discrimination against gays does not exist. Don’t you think, if I thought that was true, I would have said it myself?

What Minnery doesn’t mention is that I’m lucky. My family is accepting. My employer is accepting. You can’t look at me and tell I’m gay. Not every gay person’s life is like that. I thought that went without saying. But I was naive.

Minnery seems to want to give the impression I might agree with him. If you got that impression, I’m here to tell you I don’t agree. He and Prevo are misrepresenting me. Some might call it lying. I think the Bible has something to say about that.

The column they’re talking about was written before I’d seen an ugly side of this city, a side many gay people here know better than I do. I hadn’t yet spent hours in an Assembly chamber where bus-loads of the faithful lined up to say people like me are vile and dangerous. I hadn’t witnessed the way making a simple statement of tolerance turned politicians, including Mayor Dan Sullivan, into cowards. I hadn’t yet seen a middle-school student standing on the lawn of the Loussac Library, holding a sign that said, “Gays Recruit Children.”

Had I seen all that, I might have written something different. I admit, part of me wishes I’d written nothing at all. It was never my intention to put my own life at the center of this debate.

This time around, I hoped facts would carry the day. The fact is, if you don’t want to be near gay people, for the most part you don’t have to under Prop 5. It has a huge allowance for religious organizations. The ordinance would not apply to churches. Religious schools wouldn’t even have to hire a gay janitor, and certainly not a gay teacher. Rental wise, the protection only applies to complexes larger than four units. People with smaller places are free to discriminate.

As far as the transgender issue is concerned, more than 100 communities have similar protections, and there has never been a serious incident in a bathroom or otherwise. Why? Because when transgender people go into the bathroom, they just want to go to the bathroom.

The more I follow this debate, the more I’m convinced facts don’t matter. Opponents of Prop 5 want to keep people ignorant and scared. They want to demonize gay people and create suspicions where there should be none.

Friday I went down to Town Square where a group of Catholics gathered for a “Rally for Religious Freedom.” It was run by the clergy from Holy Family Cathedral. The front row was crowded with school girls, shivering in their uniforms. Speakers got up to talk about how Prop. 5 and the federal health care law were part of a push to infringe on Catholics’ right to worship.

Catherine Neumayr, principal of Holy Rosary Academy, spoke about the evils of birth control and said gays are defined by “aberrant sexual appetites.” The proposition was a threat to the church and her school, she said. Afterward I asked her if anything would change for Holy Rosary if it passed. She said she wasn’t sure. She didn’t know the particulars of Prop 5. Fact is, it wouldn’t.

Next there were the ads from Minnery’s group, saying that Prop 5 would force day-cares to hire transvestites or face jail. That’s just false. Transvestite is an old fashioned term for a cross-dresser, most often a straight man who likes to wear women’s clothing. The ordinance does not apply in that case. And in the history of the city’s civil rights laws, no one has ever done jail time. Minnery knows all this. But he can’t build a campaign on the truth.

Minnery likes to tell people that I’ve said laws don’t change people’s hearts, but personal relationships do. I have said this. But what he misunderstands is that a vote like this isn’t about changing hearts, it’s about protecting people from discrimination. And if Minnery’s work in Anchorage has shown me anything, it’s that the desire to discriminate here is very real, and much more prevalent than I realized.

An earlier version of this column said that Catherine Neumayr's speech contained the phrase "abhorrent sexual appetite," the phrase was "aberrant sexual appetite."

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