Our Neighbors highlights a portion of Alaska’s resilient and beautiful transgender community. With this growing body of work—I encourage you to learn more about your neighbors—to see and understand them as the diverse individuals they are and to learn from them. As humans, most of us have been taught the values of respecting and caring for our neighbors. These values should also apply to the way we treat and view the transgender community. As a community member—I challenge you to speak up against discrimination—to uplift and stand next to our transgender neighbors to make Anchorage a better place.
Oliver Gabriel Smith, 2018
I am Oliver Gabriel Smith. I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but moved to a small rural religious town in western North Carolina when I was eight years old. I feel I am from both places because most of my childhood was spent in Tennessee, but for most of my adolescence, I lived in Burnsville, North Carolina. Both places shaped who I am. I have lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a little over three years. I am an activist, advocate, educator, and green dot. I am a facilitator for the Anchorage Transgender Community, member of the Transgender Leadership Council, an out queer transgender man, anthropologist, health researcher, and friend.
To Oliver, positive representation means providing people with a base of knowledge to know that other people like them exist and understand their differences. “[By] understanding that your differences are real, valid, and there is nothing wrong with you—[it’s important to know] those parts are what make you unique. Specifically, through my own representation, I hope to increase our youths’ ability to embrace and express those unique aspects of themselves that make them different without guilt, shame, or fear of repercussions.”
Living authentically for Oliver means he doesn’t hide parts of himself that society thinks he should be ashamed of. “It is about not censoring who I am for the comfort of other people and being comfortable in my own skin. I have purposefully surrounded myself with people who genuinely think I am amazing, make me feel comfortable, support me, and are invested in my life. I would not be able to be true to myself without those people who embrace everything about me and think my differences are what makes me great.”
As an Anchorage community member, Oliver knows there are parts of the community that are safe, but feels those safe places are limited, particularly for the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and others) community. “Bathrooms are particular places I fear for my own safety, and it is a constant question when I go somewhere if I’ll be able to pee safely.”
Voting no on Proposition 1 is important to Oliver because it is unenforceable and an invasion of privacy—to have to carry and show a birth certificate to use a bathroom. Additionally, transgender people do not pose a public safety risk, and like everyone else, have a biological need to have access to a bathroom. “Everyone should have the right to feel safe, especially in places where you can be vulnerable like the bathroom.”
For individuals who are just getting to know Oliver, he wants them to know that there is always a deeper context than what is immediately perceived. What you see and understand is only a small part of Oliver’s human existence.
“I’ve always known and thought of myself as different and struggled with culture telling me that wasn’t okay. But I was lucky enough to have parents who thought what made me different are the most amazing parts of me and that no matter what other people told me, there wasn’t anything that I could not do.”
Andrea Redeker, 2018
My name is Andrea Redeker. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska and have lived all over the world. I moved back home to Anchorage a decade ago. I volunteer in an activist capacity for the Transgender Leadership Council. I firmly believe that living responsibly as an example is the best role model.
Representation to Andrea means being an integral part of society and our community of Anchorage. It means being involved, meeting new people, and interacting in ways that are beneficial to all people. “Representation is fundamental because demanding equality when people don’t know who you are is a flawed ideal.” In doing so, the most important thing to do is, “Live authentically! Be honest with yourself, be honest with those around you, and love one another.”
As an Anchorage resident, Andrea knows Anchorage is an amazing place, despite the crime. “Anchorage has beautiful diversity, where people from around the world are brought together to be one city, one community. It is my home, while it isn’t always safe for people of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex and intergender, and anonymous and asexual) community, it is a place worth loving.”
Andrea urges Anchorage voters to vote no on Proposition 1 because it’s not about bathrooms. “Proposition 1 does nothing. It protects no one. It is unenforceable and will cost the city of Anchorage millions of dollars in lawsuits. Proposition 1 is about segregation. Its purpose is to demonize and demoralize an entire group of people. It is a license to discriminate against an already vulnerable community.”
Andrea remains true to herself by living authentically. That means living a whole and fulfilled life, being honest and transparent in life. “Being true to myself is about loving one’s self, growing, learning and healing. It means being a better human, a responsible human being, a loving human.”
Lee Harrington, 2018
My name is Lee Harrington. Anchorage, Alaska has been my home for the last four and a half years. I am involved in our community of Anchorage through being a transgender activist, educator, and theatre reviewer for the Anchorage Press.
Representation to Lee comes in more than one wave. It is being visible in the media—as characters on television that look like him and having articles in newspapers that refer to Lee’s demographic. It is people who line up with the value that his journey is not to be tokenized—to be more than a background character added for flavor text, and to be seen as the complex individuals they are, and for news about LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and others) individuals to be seen from many sides, not just for shock value or filler content.
“Lastly, representation is being at the forefront of dialogues—as headline speakers at conferences, having movies that star actors of my demographic about my demographic that are paid the same as others, and in general not being categorized as the “other” in culture.”
As an Anchorage resident, Lee compares the community of Anchorage to be like a chocolate and vanilla pudding cup. “When I put my spoon into it, I never know what flavor mix will come out. I have come to have both a love for and an alienation from, the community.”
“While creating friendships and connections with people, I have simultaneously known folks who have experienced hate for being LGBTQ+. I’ve also had people who did not know that I am LGBTQ+, tell me that transgender people don’t deserve the safety and rights of others.”
Lee uses his privilege to listen to and stand up for the rights of women and feminine spectrum individuals. “As a transgender man, I have acquired male privilege due to people who see me on the streets not knowing that I was assigned female at birth. That means it is my responsibility to speak up for not just transgender women who face oppression and violence on a regular basis, but all women. I believe this is true for all men, whether they were socialized female earlier in life like I was, or who were socialized otherwise. Every one of us has a chance to listen to and stand up for the rights of women and feminine spectrum individuals.”
Remaining true to himself is evolving process for Lee. “For me [remaining true to myself] has involved many layers of evaluation.”
“Is this career fulfilling and putting me on a path towards success in my life? Is how I am living my gender expression fulfilling and putting me on a path towards success? Is how I interact with my friends and loved ones putting me, and them, on a path towards success? This includes physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, financial, and so many other layers of what can be called success, and every day, I have the chance to re-evaluate and take the next right steps for me.”
Voting no on Proposition 1 is important to Lee because there is no correlation between transgender people using bathrooms and an increase in violence. Violence in bathrooms or any public spaces is already a felony.
“Transgender people and everyone for that matter will experience further oppression and hate—everyone will have to carry their original birth certificates to ‘prove’ their gender to use bathrooms. This will affect the physical and mental well-being of our city’s children, the city’s taxpaying citizens; it’s contributors to the city on every level. From malls to courthouses, schools to the library, this will affect all of us. Vote no on Proposition 1—vote no on hate."
Samuel Ohana, 2018
I am Samuel Ohana. I am originally from New Mexico and moved to Alaska in 2012. I LOVE Alaska—it is my home. I am very involved in the Anchorage community—as a parent of four children, who participate in many activities, I am on the board of Identity, Inc., I lead the weekly Anchorage Transgender Community group at Identity and am part of the Transgender Leadership Council.
Being part of this portrait series shows Samuel that he is part of his community, that he is included in its definition. “To see one's minority status represented in art, media, history, and the common narrative gives a sense of mattering, and a feeling of importance. When people feel that they matter, that they are included and important to others in their community, they are able to strive to do and be more—it fosters a growth of spirit and contribution.”
As a community member of Anchorage, Samuel feels Anchorage is similar to other communities—there are good, kind people everywhere. “Sometimes there is only one [good person], and that person is you—so you have to work to bring more good people to where you are.”
Samuel believes Anchorage residents should vote no on Propositions 1 because it will send the city back to the dark ages of discrimination, and that is unacceptable. “There is no basis of safety concerns from which we should repeal the [current] nondiscrimination ordinance, and institute legislation that encourages discrimination and violence to our citizens.”
Samuel would like to share the following words of advice with youth, “Whenever you are feeling sad and discouraged, and think that you are alone in that, please know that you aren’t. There are always people out there who get it, and who will be there for you.”
“Being true to myself means that I no longer have to extinguish the light of my own being in favor of trying to second-guess what someone else’s expectations of me are. I am able to live my truth as it is for me.”
Danny Ashton Earl, 2018
My name is Danny Ashton Earll. I was born and raised in Alaska, and I am originally from the Kenai Peninsula. I have been in Anchorage for almost 12 years. I have been involved in the Anchorage community as a volunteer since I was 19, beginning with student clubs on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. I am a photographer, student, performer, employee, partner, stepparent, and activist. I am a three-time titleholder with the Imperial Court of All Alaska and past board member. I have been involved with faith organizations, Identity, Inc., the Four A's (Alaskan Aids Assistance Association), ACAL (Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles), and the Transgender Leadership Council.
Representation as a transgender man for Danny “Is acknowledging that we exist.” He also believes that having transgender individuals present at the table when there are issues that affect the transgender community is integral to representation.
Danny remains true to himself despite hardships experienced while living in the Anchorage community. “I love Anchorage; I love the people here, but I have been a victim of violence and sexual assault for being transgender, so we have a long way to go in regards to safety [within Anchorage].”
Danny continues to be a gentleman and a romantic fruit loop; continues to gain an education; dances down the grocery aisle when his favorite song comes on; advocates for equality; sings his heart out; engages in self-care; loves the people in his life and loves himself regardless because he is worth it.
“You have the power to create who you become. Decide the kind of person you want to be and work towards that every day. Don't let others tell you who you can and cannot be. I wanted to be a gentleman, so I became one.”
Voting no on Proposition 1 is important to Danny because it is unenforceable and does nothing to protect anyone. “Even if it passes, it will quickly be repealed because no one wants to carry their birth certificate around everywhere, so we should save time and money by voting no in the first place.”
Denise Sudbeck, 2018
My name is Denise Sudbeck. I am originally from Maine and have previously lived in both Kodiak and Fairbanks, Alaska. I have lived in Anchorage since 2016. I am the pastor of MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) Last Frontier, a primarily LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others) congregation. I currently serve as a co-chair of the Fair Anchorage campaign to defeat Proposition 1 and to retain transgender rights. I am also on the steering committee of Moral Movement Alaska and the Poor People’s Campaign, and active in Christians for Equality.
Growing up in the mid-sixties, Denise knew she thought of herself differently than other kids around her did. “Nobody else, but for me, seemed to have any problem understanding their place in this world as a woman or man, but me, and so I never said a thing. Nothing. Not until I was 57 years old. That is far too long to live with secrets.”
To Denise, being true to herself means being brave enough to develop the personal integrity to present herself as a complete person to the world around her. “Integrity sees vulnerability as an asset, not a liability. The opposite of integrity means secrets and secrets keep all people fractured, even inside and out of sight. Every person is created with the possibility and hope of integrity; being true is never impossible.”
Denise would like the youth to know not to ever let anybody tell you who you are—that you will know who you are—and to not hide that person.
Voting no on Proposition 1 is important to Denise because “It is an Alaskan and Anchorage value to live in community with people who are different than ourselves. It is a big state with room for diversity [and is a place that encourages] people to respect their neighbors. Transgender people respect their neighbors. The Anchorage nondiscrimination ordinance currently exists with zero instances of misbehavior, including transgender people. There is no reason to think that will change [with Proposition 1], existing laws protect us all.”
Representation to Denise means that she doesn’t speak for the entire [LGBTQ+] community. “My presence contributes one voice among many. [Representation] for me is part of a ‘group project.’ I am a brilliant thread in an ever-changing tapestry."
Lillian Lennon, 2018
My name is Lillian Lennon, and I’ve called Anchorage, Alaska my home for my entire life. I am an activist, artist, student, and am local to Anchorage and Talkeetna, Alaska. I am constantly looking for ways to push activism into my work in whatever capacity.
Lillian believes representation is having the ability to represent and express herself. “I feel that it is far too often that our community is overlooked or suppressed. I look forward to a time when the transgender and gender nonconforming community is heard, empowered, and represented.”
For simply being a transgender woman, Lillian has experienced discrimination. After coming out to her parents as a teen, she was sent to a residential treatment center. “I was placed in a boys dorm, constantly bullied, and refused even the basic rights to my own name. My hope is that we become a more loving and inclusive community so that no one has to experience the hate and bigotry I did.”
For years transgender people like Lillian have lived with protections under a nondiscrimination ordinance, but now a new proposition threatens to endanger her and those she loves in the eyes of the law.
“Proposition 1 would remove many protections that would help keep me and my community safe, and I fear it would not stop there. So many people I have encountered about this issue answer, ‘this doesn’t affect them’ or they ‘refuse to take sides.’ The truth about this measure is that it affects everyone. This issue is about human rights. This issue isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, a struggle between men or women, or anyone in-between. Human rights are nonpartisan. I think it’s time that human rights become less divided.”
Being true to herself means Lillian gets to live. For years Lillian existed under an assumed identity that prevented her from expressing herself and being happy. “I have been shamed for living as myself, but the truth is that my identity is a part of what makes me ‘me.’ I couldn’t change even if I wanted to.”
all artwork and content © jenny irene miller