Allison Mendel and the “Two Anchorage” Strategy Conundrum

Every single part of society has embraced the gay lifestyle. There’s one tiny remnant that hasn’t affirmed them. And they’re not going to affirm them based on deeply held convictions. And that’s what this is about. The best way that I can describe it – and this is a fact: Allison Mendel.

– Jim Minnery

“Decision 2012 KTUU Channel 2 News Election Special” was a fascinating discussion, moderated by Jason Lamb, between the two most prominent spokesmen for Proposition 5 – a question on the April 3rd Anchorage municipal ballot which will determine whether or not popular opinion agrees that our lesbian, gay, and transgender community should be added to the list of protected classes. Representing the pro-equal rights “One Anchorage” campaign was Trevor Storrs. Seated next to him, speaking for the opposition, was the aforementioned Alaska Family Council President and representative for the “Protect Your Rights” campaign, Jim Minnery. We’ll revisit his quote momentarily.

“One Anchorage” has concentrated its efforts on producing a unifying message of inclusion and community. Minnery, in stark contrast, is tasked with pitching “Two Anchorage” as a concept; explaining why we should continue to have a subclass of citizens that are subjected to laws in a very different way than, say, me.

This can be done two ways: indirectly or directly. Generally, a campaign would create models for both strategies and then test them on a sample group of the type of voters needed to win.

However, not to be outdone, Minnery and the “Protect Your Rights” group decided to enact two strategies at once. Poorly.

An indirect approach focuses not on people (which is tricky in this instance, given that the issue is squarely about people), but instead concentrates on the policy in question. Is it a good or bad thing? What harm will it do? The “Two Anchorage” indirect strategy employs  campaign advertisements with cartoon characters taking the place of actual people, serving as ambiguous actors that no one has to sympathize with. The narrator highlights the threatening unintended consequences that could be the result of passing Prop 5.

But, again, poorly.

Take the latest commercial as an example.

Carol runs a day care center in Anchorage. But if Proposition 5 passes, it will be illegal for Carol to refuse a job to a transvestite who wants to work with toddlers. If she hires him, she risks losing customers. And if she refuses, she can be fined or imprisoned.

So… No. It’s amazing how much you can get wrong in four sentences. First, there’s about a billion pages of of distance between a transvestite and someone who is transgender. It’s the difference between playing house and waking up in someone else’s and being told it’s your own. Second, if you end up with a transvestite on the job, a business owner, like the fictitious Carol, would retain the right to enforce a reasonable dress code on her fictitious transvestite. You can tell the guy in a dress to put on a suit and tie or take a hike (under Municipal code 5.20.080). This initiative does not change this. Third, if you’re a business owner with an employee alleging you are discriminating, they don’t call 911 and send you to jail. That employee would file a claim with our Municipal Equal Rights Commission. That Commission would then investigate the claim to see if it was worth pursuing – if there was any legitimacy to it. If there was, they’d have a meeting with both parties. According to the latest report from the Commission (2009), a total of 107 claims of discrimination were filed. Only a third (35) resulted in some sort of settlement or conciliation.

But major key distinction: each ad launched by Minnery features people being locked up behind bars. The few claims that pass muster and are found legitimate by the Equal Rights Commission are CIVIL cases. Meaning there is no instance – no possibility – of jail time. This means that Jim Minnery is either a) intentionally misleading the public (read: you), or b) negligent to a point that should preclude him from running a political campaign.

Thus, that is only one blunt tool in Jim Minnery’s belt. He also takes the direct approach.

The direct approach focuses on individuals, and makes examples of specific people – real people – to illustrate the merits of his argument. For years, he’s chosen Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley for this specific purpose, dredging out part of an op-ed she wrote in which she detailed how she had never personally been discriminated against.

As Minnery told APRN in a March 16 interview:

She said I have never felt intolerated[sic]. I have never felt anything but respect.

To which she responded, in the same interview:

The column that he uses was written before some of the most destructive parts of the conversation about the 2009 assembly vote had occurred. When I wrote it, I hadn’t sat in a room full of people who wanted to explain why I personally, and also gay people, are dangerous to children and dangerous to communities and sick and perverted and wrong.

Minnery took the column off of his website but continues to reference it, including in the KTUU debate. The problem with the direct approach is that, to maximize the effect, you need to target influential people; people who other people have heard of. But public figures generally become well known because people like them. Using someone well liked as a component in a negative campaign can create quite a backlash.

Even less useful is plucking someone from obscurity to make a point that is equally devoid of truthfulness.

Which returns us to Jim Minnery on KTUU:

[T]his is a fact: Allison Mendel. She’s a lesbian attorney. [She] has been in town for decades…. I thought, man, if there’s anybody that’s going to give a compelling legal argument for, in that case it was [Anchorage Ordinance] 64, it would be Allison Mendel. She’s going to talk about all these cases that she sees; she’s going to talk about all this discrimination that fired people, that couldn’t deny housing.

Here’s what she said. ‘When I put my photograph of my partner on the desk, I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, and I don’t want to feel uncomfortable.’ Had a lot of people scratching their heads after that moment, saying, now wait a second. You’re wanting to pass a law so that people will feel comfortable about you. Is that what you’re saying Allison? That’s what this is about.

And this is where we need to recognize that we’re dealing with an actor who is completely adverse to reality, who has made a campaign out of what the media politely label as “half-truths” but are actually a patent refutation of fact. From nonexistent transvestites cashing nonexistent checks while sending small business owners to a nonexistent jail in accordance with nonexistent law, to Julia O’Malley being used as a prop to serve a fictional narrative that runs counter to the nonfictional point she was making.

And now Allison Mendel.

Allison Mendel is indeed a person. An attorney. A lesbian. Who offered testimony during the Ordinance 64 debate.

But what Minnery said she said is not what she said. (watch it here – at 1:58).

Thank you, I’m Allison Mendel, Chairman Ossiander, I am here to testify in favor of the proposed ordinance. It is long past time to make this important change in the law. Social science research tells us that people who know gay people or have gay people in their families are less likely to discriminate or to support discrimination. Many of you know me. If you don’t know me, you probably know who I am. I am a divorce lawyer, I’ve been in business in Anchorage for twenty five years, I have a family including children and grandchildren who live here. If you do not support this ordinance, you are in effect saying that you deserve legal protections that I do not deserve. Some very strange arguments are being made about why this is a good idea. None of them make any practical sense. I want what you already have and I have yet to hear any good reason why I should not have it. There is no such category as good homosexuals, any more than there is a category of good heterosexuals. All people come in an endless variety from heroes to criminals. The variety of heterosexuals include murderers, pedophiles, adulterers, and inconsiderate people. No heterosexual has to prove that you deserve your civil rights. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are no different. Some are admirable and some are not. We should not have to audition for social approval in order to be guaranteed the right to a home and a job on the same basis as everyone else. In our system, a person’s religious beliefs have only a passing acquaintance with the civil rights of others. We are each free to hold any belief we like but none of us are free to impose a belief system on others. I cannot refuse to serve Baptists or Pagans in my business even if their beliefs are anathema to me. And they should have no right to… refuse to serve me in any business on the basis that I am a lesbian. Our society continues to function because we agree to disagree. This does not imply disregard or disrespect of anyone’s religion. It is simply the only way we can conduct a society of many beliefs. I want to be able to have a home, a family, a business on the same premeses as all other Anchorage citizens. I do not want to have to hide or lie in order to have these things. I want to be able to put my wedding picture on my desk just like you do, without risking being fired because of it. If you think there is some reason you deserve this, and I don’t, I want to know what it is. Thank you for listening.

Emphasis mine.

Minnery claims that her testimony is weak-kneed; couched in the argument that she wants people to be “comfortable” with her being permitted to display a picture of her partner on her desk. That is false. She fears being fired for it.  Those are two very different objections.

But, he’s right. She made no legal argument; offered no quantifiable evidence. No stories or first hand accounts.

And then Assemblyman Chris Birch asked a follow up question:

Assemblyman Birch: Have you had or would you care to share any first hand account of discrimination… restaraunts you’ve been turned away from, jobs you’ve been denied, or, a home or a loan you couldn’t, you weren’t qualified for based on your orientation?

Mendel: …I am an attorney and I have many clients who tell me horrible stories of things that have happened to them. Um, being fired because somebody thought they were gay whether they were or not. I’ve had clients who were evicted from housing because a perception that they had friends who were gay, or that they themselves were gay. I have had other attorneys, on the record, in court cases, accusing me of having particular opinions in a case because I am a lesbian and therefor I should not be listened to by the court. I, you know, really I could go on all night with examples like that. I’m afraid it’s rather common.

Nothing that comes from this man seems to attach itself to a thread of truth. Mr. Minnery seems unable to address this issue as an honest broker, and instead appears capable only of promoting a campaign based on distortions. If he remains resolved in his belief that a debate about this issue is necessary, than I believe that as a community we deserve a better debater.

2 Comments
  1. Tim Pearson
    March 25, 2012 | Reply
  2. Stephen Gingrich
    March 25, 2012 | Reply

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