Anchorage Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce have worked together for the first time to develop the One Anchorage, One Economy initiative which is about non-discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. This initiative is part of a larger push called "Live. Work. Play." This plan hopes to brand Anchorage as a city to invest in young talented LGBT people who can help create an economic boom for the remote city.
A bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation was defeated at the ballot box last year but is being proposed again by US Senator Lisa Murkowski. Conservative Alaskan officials are aware that the new generation of talented and creative professionals are more open to inclusion and diversity than ever before. If they want to see growth they have to appeal to that new paradigm.
"I certainly know some will try to make this into a social commentary. The social debates are happening outside of what we're doing," says Andrew Halcro, the chamber president and former Republican state representative. "This is really focusing on the economy and the economic benefits of inclusivity."
This strategically softer stance on LGBT equality is part of a national stealthy push within the GOP and more conservative groups to get them on board with the LGBT equality movement and on the right side of history. A lobbying group called American Unity Fund, created by hedge fund executive and major Republican Party donor Paul Singer, is nudging GOP lawmakers to back the LGBT movement by supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They hope a vote in favor of ENDA will boost the party's chances of attracting new voters while not alienating its core constituency by focusing on the economic benefits and not the social aspect.
"The Republican image unfortunately, is one in which we have an empathy gap, says Norm Coleman, lobbyist for American Unity Fund. "That impacts us across the board. An issue like this, which is about being against discrimination, feed into the long-term future of the party. It addresses one of the negatives that we are facing today."
Slowly but surely there has been an increase of support for LGBT equality among conservatives. This change speaks not just to a political strategy to increase party numbers, but to the change of hearts and minds. When LGBT people are accurately represented in the media, and have a strong support system in its ally relationships with the larger community, a shift towards inclusion is ensured. Recently, a few conservative senators have come out in favor of marriage equality: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Rob Portman of Ohio.