Updated: The Fairbanks City Council convened the first of three work sessions today to consider revisions to a proposed ordinance that would bar discrimination against the LGBTQ community and other groups. Supporters of the measure told Mayor Jim Matherly and City Council members on Monday that they’re angry the council postponed approving the ordinance. They said they were harassed by opponents of the measure during the Dec. 10 public hearing and subjected to threatening and obscene images transmitted through a cellphone by someone at the meeting.
Brenae Baker told the mayor and council members Monday that supporters of the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance are still fuming over the the council’s decision to postpone final action on the measure.
“I am angry and sad that my elected officials think equal protections to LGBTQ-plus persons is something to be addressed at their leisure,” she said.
Baker says supporters are especially frustrated that Matherly failed to restrain opponents of the ordinance. She says their outbursts made it difficult for supporters to testify that night.
“I’m sure I need hardly to remind you all of the swearing, slander, jeering, interruptions and hate speech that was allowed of those opposing the ordinance and endured by the LGBTQ-plus persons who were brave enough to attend,” she said.
Eric Muehling said the harassment included use of an iPhone ad-hoc service called AirDrop that was being used to anonymously transmit threatening images to other iPhone users in the council meeting chambers.
“The images included a Confederate battle flag and Second Amendment symbols and a snake,” he said. “Others at the City Council meeting received similar images and images of male genitalia.”
Muehling says the images were intended to intimidate supporters of the ordinance. He says he knows of at least one person who’d intended to testify in favor of the measure but left the meeting because of the iPhone images and heated testimony.
“Images of a Confederate battle flag were taunting and intimidating, and this has no place in public meeting of the Fairbanks City Council,” he said. “Uploading images of male genitalia during the council meeting was sexual harassment.”
Muehling says he told Matherly about the incident after the meedting, and submitted six of the images when he filed a police report. Matherly says the matter is under investigation. He says he didn’t know about the AirDrop harassment until after the meeting, and he told those at Monday’s meeting the only way to prevent receiving unwelcome images is to shut off that function on their iPhones.
“I would encourage people to turn their AirDrop ability off and you won’t get those,” he said.
Councilmembers Valerie Therrien, June Rogers, Shoshana Kun and Kathryn Ottersten all said the harassment was made worse by the fact that the images were transmitted by someone in the council chambers during a meeting.
Therrien also said the council postponed a final vote on the ordinance to consider amendments to address citizens’ concerns.
“I’m a cosponsor of that (ordinance), and I felt we just needed to tweak it a little bit, and therefore I voted to postpone it,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be supporting it. And I feel really bad that people think that we were neglectful.”
Ottersten said she like all members of the LGBTQ community are accustomed to online trolls. But she says the cellphone cyber-attack went too far.
“The AirDrop actually frankly disturbs me more than the anonymous chatter online that’s contained physical threats against myself (and) some members of the public who spoke,” she said, “because the AirDrop was done from this room.”
Ottersten proposed the measure, which the rest of the council except Jerry Cleworth joined in co-introducing. Kun says the incident affirms the concerns of the L-G-B-T-Q community, whose members say they’re often subjected to harassment and discrimination.
“Intimidation is how often how discrimination actually happens,” she said. “And so it’s really real.”
Council members will continue reviewing the ordinance in work sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. They hope to consider approval of an amended version next month.