Anchorage, this is Ira, Ira, this is everyone. If you were an active part of the Fair Anchorage campaign, you may have met Ira before. “During Prop 1, the Fair Anchorage campaign, I was working as a volunteer. I basically managed all the Op-eds and Letters to the Editor, helping people write and coordinate them. That felt important to me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community; this part of the community was being attacked, and it felt important to put in work for that.” Originally from Chicago, Ira Slomski-Pritz moved to Alaska in 2014. He started his professional work in this state in Sitka, working for a volunteer program. He also spent time working for Governor Walker. In February of this year, he began work with Mayor Berkowitz on an initiative that led to his current position.
“I have been meeting people, and working with Delaney Mitchel, who is just here for the summer and who had worked with the Mayor before on the Welcoming Anchorage initiative, which broadly asked the question “What would a more just Anchorage look like?” including Darrel Hess who is a board member of Identity. So, there was some queer representation.” He explained, and said “Something I am working with her on is taking that plan and using all of these conversations that we are having that are more targeted for queer people, to see if there are ways that we can update that plan and make it more representative of queer needs, broadly speaking. I know that queer might not be a word that everyone identifies with, but I am using it right now in a blanket concept.” He uses it to identify himself as well and explains his use of the word. “I think I represent the most privileged part of the whole spectrum, right? White, cis, gay, male. There is the really important part, and using the word queer, is that solidarity piece.”
Since he is part of the community, he is aware of the struggles of being a queer identified person in the current political climate. “Everyone has their own experience with their gender identity and sexuality. What I remember profoundly about the process of coming out is, I am good at compartmentalizing, and so I thought of myself as straight, even though I knew that I was attracted to men, I would hear gay, and think “other”. So even when I did come to terms with that part of me, it felt like this profound shift, where suddenly I was aware of all these things I wouldn’t have seen before. I feel lucky to have this experience, to experience a difference. It was just one layer, but it’s this constant reminder that I will never be able to understand so many other people’s lived experiences. To even guess what people are experiencing, so that is what is informing the process, to listen.” The concept of listening is born of the knowledge he has that his experience is never going to be the same as anyone else’s, simply because of who he is. “
“This is the goal as he takes on this role at City Hall; to continue to meet with people and find out exactly what the major concerns of the community are, and how the municipality can assist. “I think being newer to this role, both in the Mayor’s office, and as LGBTQ+ liaison, and generally newer to the queer community here, I think the approach I am taking is trying to talk to as many people as I can right now. I want to figure out what the concerns are, what the issues are, because the Mayor is supportive, but it takes the person to make the connection and identify what has to happen to turn that support into action.” He is grateful for the help on the assembly and knows that while we have friends there as well, more representation is not a bad thing. “I know that there has been work before, and it’s great to have Chris, Felix and Austin on the Assembly. I think that compared to other cities this size, there is a lot of representation but still, not that much.”
As he has been meeting with leaders of the community, he has seen some needs already. “I want to let the process play out and hear out as many people as possible. It’s clear that there is a lot of work to do. I think it’s great that Anchorage has a non-discrimination ordinance. There is something nice about being recognized in law, like it’s not okay to discriminate, and it would be great to have that at a statewide level. There is a whole host of issues that happen at a statewide level, where I think that it will be important for the community to elect people who support that.” He also sees that while having the laws that make discrimination illegal, it would be great to stop the intolerance before it even begins. “I think generally, this is work that a lot of people in the community are doing, like training, but the more people that understand our experiences the better. I think that it’s one thing to prohibit discrimination, but then I think the next level is preventing it in the first place. That’s obviously not something that can happen with policy, but the way that different municipal agencies interact with queer people. Whether it’s more training, or other ways to provide that education.”
Beyond ordinances the liaison also sees that there are basic needs that need to be met simply for health reasons. “It’s great to say no-discrimination, but it’s clear that a lot of people in this community have health care needs that are not being met. We play a little bit in healthcare world with the Anchorage Health Department, and a lot of that is happening at a statewide level, like with Medicaid.” In terms of medical needs, he met with one of the most tenacious and hardworking leaders that our community has. “Meeting with Tracey at Full Spectrum Health, there is a lot of real need. People that are experiencing challenges not just because of their gender identity and sexual orientation, but across the whole spectrum.”
Some of those mental health issues may feed another problem that all Anchorage residents know well. “For the municipality, addressing homelessness is a big issue. I don’t know the extent at a municipal level that it has been talked about as a queer issue, but at least anecdotally that a lot of the youth experiencing homelessness are queer.”
For Pride this year you may run into Slomski-Pritz at a few events. He is excited for the Rainbow Run and looks forward to enjoying a Pride Brew after it is completed. He is also excited to see the amount of small-town Pride celebrations happening in places like Seward, Soldotna, and Talkeetna. Having lived in Sitka, he understands the isolation that can come from feeling like you are alone. “I think about it a lot.” he related, “Having lived in Sitka for a year, which by Alaska standards is big, with 9000 people, I think something about gender identity or sexual orientation, so often, we go through the really hard parts by ourselves at first. When we are still trying to figure it out, it’s isolated. Then it gets amplified when you are in the small towns in Alaska, so I am excited to be in Anchorage, and excited for everyone else to have that feeling.”
The best chance you have of meeting our new friends at City Hall, is at Pridefest on the park strip, where he is going to be at the booth manned by the Mayor’s Office. “I am excited about Pridefest because this time I will be on the other side of the booth, and that really is exciting to me, because last year I was just having fun and walking around, but I think I will feel a little more engaged in it this year.” He wants to welcome everyone to come and meet him. “I’m excited to talk to anyone who wants to share their concerns, experiences, or ideas about how to make Anchorage better.” These conversations don’t have to be only about ideas for the community, and Slomski-Pritz truly wants a better city for everyone.
To contact Ira Slomski-Pritz, you can send him an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org