Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about what it would mean for me as a lesbian living in Alaska. Before making the decision to come to Alaska, I did a bit of research to see what the quality of life was in Alaska for gays and lesbians. I really didn’t find much information at all. Aside from a few personal accounts on some forums (some good, some bad), most of the information seemed to be about Anchorage. I read some old news stories about how Anchorage passed some laws years back that were anti-lgbt but then I also read some stuff that indicated there was a growing gay culture centered around Mad Myrna’s. There was also a Facebook page for Alaska Pride. However, all the information I found was for Anchorage, and I was moving to the Kenai Peninsula, for which there seemed to be no information so I came to the Peninsula with a “Let’s wait and see” plan of action.
After a year of living on the Peninsula, my “let’s wait and see” plan of action has revealed that the Kenai Peninsula is full of the friendliest bunch of strangers I’ve ever met. I have yet to encounter any issues living as a lesbian on the Kenai Peninsula and have found quite the opposite to be true. Generally speaking, people are kind and helpful. If you are stuck in a ditch you will have 4 people stop to ask if you need help. If you say yes, they will help. If you say no, they will wish you luck and continue on their way. Everyone seems willing to help others when needed but generally do not pry into personal business so I very much feel that being gay on the Kenai is perceived as “who you love is your business so who am I to judge.”
This perception, however, seemed to run contrary to Alaska’s gay marriage ban. If people really didn’t feel it was their business, how did Alaska end up with a gay marriage ban? From what I was told by some long time Alaska residents is that some right wing anti-lgbt groups shipped people in from the lower 48 to raise a big stink about it because they really couldn’t get Alaskans to raise a stink about it. The folks from the lower 48 held protests and organized an anti-lgbt movement that put pressure on lawmakers to follow suit with the states in the lower 48. I’m sure there is more to the story given that all the people I talked were supportive of equal rights for all people. They also told me a story of how a high school wanted to start a lgbt club and the anti-lgbt group raised a stink about it so rather than discriminate, the school just dissolved all student groups.
Another contradiction I found to the gay marriage ban is that of benefits. My partner will be joining me in Alaska soon. We will be married in San Francisco in about a month and then plan to live out our lives together on the Kenai. In preparation for our marriage, I asked about whether or not she would be considered my spouse in terms of medical insurance and other benefits I receive through work. I was told yes as long as I was married in a state where it was legal to marry, our marriage would be recognized.
I was a bit surprised by this but in hindsight, I don’t think I should have been. I am very out at work and in my personal life. I’ve never met anyone that expressed any issue to me. I have had a few awkward stares but even they were polite and pleasant people to talk to. Most of the people at work ask me about my partner. How is she doing? When will she be here? etc. They seem sincerely interested and eager to meet her. She has already been invited to more than a few dinner parties when she arrives.
I also am not the only gay person I know on the Kenai. I have met many gays and lesbians including co-workers, community members, students, etc. There seem to be a large number of gays and lesbians living on the Kena but there is nothing here that brings them all together like in Anchorage or other big cities. I don’t know if that is because there isn’t a need for an actual community because we feel so integrated and accepted in the larger Kenai community or because we really haven’t faced an issue that would bring us all together to support each other. I honestly don’t know. It could be as simple as no one has opened a gay establishment that could serve as the gathering place for the gay community on the Kenai.
Perhaps the prejudice is there but it remains hidden behind awkward smiles. Perhaps the folks on the Kenai really do consider it a private matter and respect that privacy. Perhaps all the continued hate rhetoric in the news leaves me looking for it where it doesn’t exist. Only time will really tell but I will say that the Kenai is full of the friendliest bunch of strangers I have ever met and don’t remain strangers for very long. In many ways, living on the Kenai has been an escape from the hate for me but I really can’t escape it when the news is still filled with it and I still have to go to another state to get married.