Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, is set to vote tomorrow on Proposition 5, which would, if approved by the voters, outlaw discrimination in employment and housing against gay men and lesbians, and in addition, extend protections to transgender people. 

The measure has caused considerable commotion between proponents and opponents, with fierce clashes on television both in terms of debates and in terms of ads. The opponents recently aired a highly transphobic advertisement, which drew howls of criticism from LGBT groups and activists.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Alaska is one of 12 US states where neither the state nor any of its municipalities outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The city’s Assembly had originally approved just such an ordinance in 2009, but Mayor Dan Sullivan had vetoed it, saying there was no evidence that discrimination was a problem in Anchorage. This was the spur for the birth of Proposition 5, unusual in that public referenda tend to be launched by anti-gay groups and attempt the reverse.

“It’s a hornet’s nest, and has gotten ugly,” said Jim Minnery, head of Protect Your Rights, the group that leads the fight against Prop. 5. Whereas Trevor Storrs of One Anchorage Campaign, which backs the measure, said that the campaign launched by their opponents only “encourages hate and violence.”

All said, a poll released last week by Dittman Research & Communications, a pollster based in the city, suggested, on the basis of interviews with 500 registered voters, that the Proposition might win by a margin of 50 per cent to 41, with the remainder still ‘undecided.’

The Human Rights Campaign has also noted that if Prop. 5 passes, Anchorage would join more than 160 cities or counties across the US which have local legislations that outlaw discrimination on sexual orientation and/or gender identity — almost double the number from just five years ago. Several other municipalities do have laws protecting gay men and lesbians, yet fail to protect transgender people.

The referendum also coincides with the mayoral elections for Anchorage, with Mr Sullivan, a Republican, seeking a second term. His claim that there is no evidence for homophobic and transphobic discrimination falls flat against the public hearings for the Assembly measure, with transphobia costing some their ability to find homes and jobs.

Mr Sullivan is challenged by an independent, Paul Honeman, who supports Proposition 5. A retired police officer from Anchorage, and a member of the Assembly, has said: “There are some bigoted, small-minded people, unfortunately. That’s why we need laws.” The foregoing Dittman poll found Mr Sullivan leading Mr Honeman among registered voters 56 per cent to 35.