ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted Friday to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, with its president saying the state may have been the only one in the nation not to have sexual orientation specifically listed as a protection in a public university policy.
The proposal, approved 8-2, adds sexual orientation to university policy that bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, veteran status, disability, marital status, pregnancy and parenthood.
University President Pat Gamble said the law, while unsettled, also was evolving in favor of making sexual orientation a protected class.
He said a number of higher education institutions have already made the change, a number University spokeswoman Kate Ripley placed at about 400.
After the vote, Gamble told Anchorage television station KTUU that discussions with students inspired him to look at national norms.
"We're not breaking trail here," he said. "I think for this university the positive energy it will generate is not insignificant."
Ripley told The Associated Press by e-mail the policy was not motivated by discrimination complaints that she was aware of but had been requested by students, faculty and staff for years.
The university already provides benefits to the same sex partners of employees who qualify as financially interdependent partners under UA regulations.
Gamble said in agenda material provided to the board that the expense that could flow from the policy change approved by regents had already been absorbed.
"With the elimination of 'don't ask, don't tell' from the military, the trend is clear," he said in the agenda material.
The nation's most prestigious and state flagship schools already include sexual orientation as a protected class.
"It is difficult to know for sure, but it stands to reason that this could be a recruiting issue for students, staff and faculty," Gamble said.
The policy would not allow the university to silence homosexuality's critics, he said.
"To the contrary, the university's discrimination policy exists alongside its formal, and constitutionally required, commitment to free speech," he said, including n speech many find offensive.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the policy change at a public hearing Thursday.
"It would give me hope that future generations at our school would feel more safe and welcome," said Katrielle Bruce, a junior at the school.
She and several others said the proposal did not go far enough. They said transgendered people are especially discriminated against, and gender identity should also be included on the non-discrimination list.
Among those testifying was Drew Phoenix, a Methodist minister who was born Ann Gordon and has had sexual reassignment surgery.
"I assure you I am not one of a kind, that there are many university students, faculty and staff who are experiencing the disconnect that I have felt, along with the subsequent discrimination and violence, because they are not protected by nondiscrimination policies like the one being proposed here," Phoenix said.
Ripley said regents received a half-dozen or so e-mails in opposition to the policy change.
The support among those who testified Thursday contrasted with angry debate when a measure to ban discrimination against gays came before the Anchorage Assembly.
There were weeks of loud, contentious public hearings last summer over the proposal that sought to ban discrimination in employment, credit, public accommodations and housing. The assembly passed the measure, but Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it.
Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com
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