Donny and Adam Lee Jacobson made national headlines over the weekend after the couple was targeted by anti-gay activists at their home in Anchorage, Alaska.
The couple, who married on June 21, 2013, and have been living together in the University area for four years, were confronted with an act of vandalism Friday night.
“I came home very late on Friday night and I checked the mail out of habit,” Adam told me on Sunday. “There was some nasty stuff in and on the mailbox, and it kind of looked like frozen soup or something. I thought maybe someone had thrown up on the mailbox.”
The next morning, Donny uncovered a more alarming scene. He found a poster fixed to his windshield; a green piece of paper with handwritten notes that read “Homos are Possessed by Demons,” “Fags Die God Laughs,” “You’re Going to Hell,” “Two Men should be Friends! Not Butt Buddies,” and “Fag Free Zone.”
One of the posters, which looked like they were written by children, included a swastika.
“That sort of behavior is learned, so whether it was a child or whether it was an adult, it was taught to them and most likely it was taught to them when they were young,” Adam told me.
He said that he woke up the next morning and discussed options of what he and his husband could do over a cup of coffee. They called the police, though they were aware that there might not be much the officer could do. Alaska does not have any law targeting hate crimes, nor are there any anti-discrimination laws protecting the newly granted legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Same-sex couples can legally marry, and can still be legally fired and denied housing and credit the same day, for the same reason.
An APD officer came and collected the signs to see if they might offer fingerprints. He took lots of pictures and filed a report. Donny and Adam said he was polite and thorough, and felt that if nothing else came from it, at least the event would be documented.
“There wasn’t any permanent damage caused to our property,” Adam said. “So, it wasn’t a huge crime scene for him, so he just did what he could with what he had to work with. I really appreciate the work that he did.”
“It is so sad and disheartening to know that the hate and ugliness such as what these individuals awoke to yesterday exists in our community,” Dani Myren, a spokesperson for APD told me.
Word spread quickly after Adam and Donny shared the images of the signs on Facebook. KTVA broke the story on Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday it had reached Towleroad.
Anchorage state house representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) thinks its time that the state caught up to the responsibilities necessitated by marriage equality.
“I cosponsored legislation in the legislature last year to say that regardless of who you decide to love in your life you should have equal rights, at work, in housing,” Gara said in a phone interview Sunday morning. “I hope that we have a legislature that’s open minded enough to say [that] it’s time to stop saying discrimination against people based on who they love is okay.”
Gara was referring to House Bill 139, sponsored by former state representative Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau) in 2013, aimed at prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That year marked the first time such a proposal was entertained in committee in Alaska — albeit only for 12 minutes. The hearing was viewed by many as a public relations move after laughing at the topic, and the bill was never given a second hearing and not reopened last session.
Gara would like to see the legislature address anti-discrimination laws and hate crimes legislation. The latter has not been considered since 2011, but Gara feels that the vandalism over the weekend to the Lee Jacobsons’ home, compounded by the growing national tension garnered from events in Ferguson, MO and New York, warrant the attention.
Grand jury decisions in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others have inspired protests across the country, including in Anchorage. That tension has made online comment threads distinctly unpleasant places to be. Gara explains:
[Former] Senator Bettye Davis tried to get a hate crimes bill passed and it was blocked, so it’s something I want to take a look into. Because, certainly, whatever people think about the news stories on Ferguson and other things, there’s been a lot of overt hate speech apart from all of that stuff, and I’m concerned. I mean, hate speech isn’t illegal, but there have been hate crimes in other states, and even in Anchorage. I’m worried that unless somebody sort of makes this a big public discussion about how it’s not okay to categorize a whole race, which is unfortunately finding itself into the blogs, into public statements by people. Things are just going to get worse.
Gara said he would like to start a discussion among the state’s leaders to begin figuring out how to diffuse some of the tension surrounding both racial justice and anti-gay sentiment. “That’s not appropriate 60 years after Selma,” he said. “We have to grow out of that.”
Alaska has a new and independent governor in Bill Walker, who ran on a platform of bipartisan consensus and compromise. But the makeup of the legislative branch, which hosts a Republican majority that operated on a hyper-partisan basis last session, changed little. The next session begins on January 21.
“Donny and I do not feel as though we are oppressed. We’re not scared. We’re not shaken. We’re not upset. We were confronted with these graphic images and words, and it was hugely inappropriate,” Adam Lee Jacobson told me Sunday evening. “But, ultimately, this whole thing has been a very, very positive experience for me. The amount of people who have reached out as friends, family, people in the media, people who we’ve never met, from across the country, that are reaching out to us through Facebook, texting and calling — it’s been pretty much nonstop throughout the last 36 hours and 100 percent positive. It’s just great, and it just, to me, shows where we are as a society. That poster is meaningless. The truth is in how everyone has reacted to us.”
Adam and Donny report that they haven’t suffered from discrimination or anti-gay sentiment in Anchorage, outside of this weekend’s incident, despite the existing laws that sanction it. “If we were experiencing it, we were blind to it,” Adam said.
The question is whether or not legislators will recognize the quantifiable evidence of its existence, now, and arm couples like Adam and Donny Lee Jacobson with legal protections to combat it in the future.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” Gara said. “I want a public discussion.”
Incoming House Majority Leader Charrisse Millett (R-Anchorage) did not respond to inquiry.