Anchorage's first mail-in vote, despite a few expected bumps, did what it was supposed to: increase voter turnout. At least, as I type this on Tuesday night, that is the projection. Nearly 64,000 ballots were turned in by this afternoon, with anywhere from seven-to fifteen-thousand possibly still making their way to the election center. The remaining ballots will be tabulated as they are processed. We could see upward of 30-35 percent voter turnout – rivaled only, in the last decade, by the mayoral election in 2012.
There wasn't a way to make credible predictions; no applicable data set to cross-reference in order to make inferences. But when the first 50,506 votes were posted online around nine o'clock, it was quite a marvel for anyone who has lived here for any length of time. Mayor Berkowitz is up by 10,962 over challenger Rebecca Logan and Prop 1 – the transphobic bathroom bill – is down by nearly 4,000 votes. Every bond package is up by big numbers.
But before the results began trickling in, more last-minute shenanigans were unsurprisingly afoot. Equally unsurprising, they were orchestrated by Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council and one of the chief operators behind Prop 1 – a proposal that has been making social media an even-less-pleasant-than-usual place to be in the months since it was added to this year's ballot. Election shenanigans have become ubiquitous whenever a Minnery is involved.
Anchorage passed a law protecting LGBTQ residents of the municipality in 2015. A key provision barred discrimination based on gender identity, defined as “a person’s gender-related self-identity, as expressed in appearance or behavior, regardless of the person’s sex assigned at birth.” Jim Minnery and wife, Kim, immediately started work on a ballot measure aimed at repealing gender identity protections.
Minnerys and company lost the money battle – the Yes on One group raised just $128,000 compared to the opposition's $800,000. However, the same sort of disparity was on display when Jim fought an anti-discrimination proposition in 2012. Polls leading up to election day favored Prop 5 by around five points. It ended up failing by more than fifteen. It turns out people don't like to tell pollsters they oppose basic equal protections for a marginalized minority.
The strategy adopted by supporters of Prop 1 was to take the persons who would be discriminated against out of the equation. “Yes On One” canvassers sidestepped whether or not we should allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom aligning with their gender identity, instead redefining the issue entirely. During the signature gathering phase, canvassers asked signatories, “Do you want men in your little girl's bathrooms in elementary schools?” according to Nico Lang and Kate Sosin Oeser, writing for the Los Angeles-based LGBTQ magazine INTO.
Minnery's late-game effort came in an eyebrow-raising email, and corresponding social media post, sent out last Friday. The subject line read, “Radical Feminists for Prop 1 – Wait... What?” To which I thought to myself, “Radical feminists for Prop 1? Wait... What?” He then introduced us to Kathy Sloan, who he described as a “feminist's feminist,” a former board member for the National Organization for Women (NOW), and a former executive director for NOW-Connecticut. With Sloan's alleged “radical feminist” bona fides established, Minnery encouraged readers to “think outside of the slogans” when voting on Ballot Measure One. Then, he allowed Sloan the chance to reiterate all of his.
“If men can be women in a world of male supremacy where 1 in 3 women will be raped or victims of domestic violence during their lifetime, then it is truly open season on women” Sloan wrote. “This is an absolute gift to pedophiles and voyeurs.”
Of course, sexual harassment and assault are already illegal, and sexual violence has nothing to do with gender identity. But the simple scare tactic of branding an already-vulnerable minority population, in the court of public opinion, as a cabal of sexual predators is enough to raise the hackles of anyone unfamiliar with the issue, now manufactured to set up a nightmare scenario where kids are at risk. The reality is, trans people are desperately in need of legal protections protecting them from violence and harassment. There were 28 documented deaths of transgender people in the U.S. last year, according to a report by the Human Rights campaign, and already eight more so far in 2018. The best data we have locally is the 2011 “Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey,” authored by Melissa S. Green, who found high rates of discrimination against the trans community: 44 percent of respondents reported being followed or chased; 25 percent said they had experienced physical violence; 56 percent said they had been harassed at work by a coworker or employer; 32 percent claimed they were unable to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Sloan seemed unconcerned about that subset of people, though. “I AM a woman who cares passionately about the protection of the most vulnerable people – females – in a patriarchal misogynist world where females of the species are forced to seek out spaces that are safe from violent male sexual predation,” she wrote, again skipping how sexual violence is already illegal. There is no evidence of (and plenty against) trans people being more disposed to predatory acts, and trans women are vulnerable females in need of the very protections Sloan is railing against.
I found Sloan on the Google machine via a GoFundMe page where she was raising money to finance her work. With a goal of $25,000, launched in January of last year, it has accrued $55. She popped briefly into headlines in 2014, when she appeared before the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, testifying in support of a bill that would have criminalized surrogacy. Carrying a child for another person(s), had the law passed, would come with a fine of up to $10,000 or one year in jail.
“Sloan also expressed concern in her testimony that associated medical treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), may harm women,” Erin Martinson wrote at the time for Rewire News. Sloan testified before the committee as a representative of NOW. NOW was not amused.
The national organization's president, Toni Van Pelt, responded with a statement reading, in part, “The National Organization for Women has always supported the rights of LGBTQIA persons.... Ms. Sloan's views, as reported, against transgender persons' preferred-gender bathroom use is not reflective of our long-standing support of transgender rights.” The current president of NOW-CT didn't remember her.
Sloan bills herself as a “trans exclusionary radical feminist,” but wants to jail women for surrogacy, and rejects IVF and stem cell research. That's a weird feminism. I asked my wife to make sure. She confirmed. Minnery used her to prove that “radical feminists” – how is this plural? – should support the bathroom bill. Channeling Carrot Top, he used her as yet another prop, right alongside the fictional transvestite (which has nothing to do with being trans) hiding in the adjacent stall waiting for your daughter, who is already legally protected under current law. It's an effective, albeit dirty, tool, offering a quick, easy way out of actually having to question the merits of whatever issue he is currently trying to freak you out about. The strategy is not to actually garner support from the center-left, but to offer supporters of Prop One a convenient thing to point to and a motivation to vote. It has nothing to do with feminism. It serves the ends he's attempting to achieve. It's what he does. And at this point, we really ought to have seen it coming.
And, for once, it appears we did.