Alaska peninsula residents, official discuss LGBTQ safety

January 7, 2020 GMT

SOLDOTNA, Alaska (AP) — Residents, law enforcement officials and elected representatives have come together at an Alaska town hall meeting to address public safety for the LGBTQ community.

The event was organized in the wake of an assault on a local LGBTQ activist and drew more than 100 people to the Soldotna Public Library on Saturday.

In addition to members and supporters of the LGBTQ community, the event was attended by Kenai and Soldotna city council members, Soldotna’s mayor and police officers, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members, and the area’s state senator and representative.

The victim of the Dec. 9 assault gave an update on the ongoing investigation by Alaska State Troopers, adding that she was was overwhelmed by the turnout at the meeting.

“My wounds have healed on the outside, and they’re starting to heal on the inside,” she said. “We still have a lot of healing to do, but when I look around and I see that my community consists of so much more support than I ever thought it did, it really means a lot.”

The assault was the third related event in less than a month, the woman said. Someone left a note with homophobic comments and a threat on her truck Nov. 14, and a rock shattered her windshield eight days later.

The Associated Press does not identify victims of crimes.

Event organizer Michele Vasquez said she felt compelled to take action in the wake of the harassment and attack.

“I’ve heard the stories too much, Vasquez said. ”There are other stories, there are teenagers, there are young people, there are older people that I’ve heard their stories, too.”

Members of the LGBTQ community gave testimonies about challenges they face and life on the peninsula, and said they hoped to see more LGBTQ-friendly places in the community.

A high school student related stories of classmates being targeted with repeated homophobic slurs through anonymous Instagram accounts.

Republican state Rep. Gary Knopp plans to introduce legislation to amend Alaska’s existing hate crime statute to include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes, he said.