If you’re part of the LGBTQ Community, you may be wondering if Alaska will be a friendly travel destination for you and your partner.
And for good reason. As with any conservative right-leaning state, let’s just say that Alaska appears to be an “approach with caution” state.
However, looks can be a bit deceiving. So let’s take a look at some actual facts and figures and I can share a bit of my own experience and outlook from my time living here in Juneau.
First off, Alaska has an LGBTQ population rate of 3.7% (much lower than the United States average of 7.1%). One of the reasons that there are fewer locals (and travelers) in the LGBTQ camp is that Alaska traditionally has had fewer protections available for those in the LGBTQ community (not to mention lower general acceptance).
However, as with any state that relies heavily on tourist dollars to survive, Alaska has made huge steps in the past couple of years to be (or appear) more open and welcoming.
This led to Alaska being recognized in 2022 as one of the states that had made the greatest improvements in LGBTQ acceptance over the course of the last year.
The state has also been working on a campaign called “Safe to Be Seen” that aimed to promote inclusivity and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community within Alaska’s economic health, tourism industry, and business.
Since we consider most of the PNW to be very open-minded and welcoming, let’s take a look at how Alaska has been doing this year and see if it’s somewhere you should put on your list!
Red State, Blue State?
As someone who grew up in Alaska with several friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I feel that I can at least relay some of their feelings and experience to illustrate what you can expect when visiting Alaska.
But first, let’s talk a little about Alaska’s history in general first, and then we’ll get into some specifics.
Despite what the media down south likes to pretend every four years in order to generate storylines on Election Day, Alaska is one of the most solidly red states in the country.
Since Alaska started receiving electoral votes in 1960, the state has given its electoral votes to a Democrat exactly one time.
It was 1964, interestingly enough, because Goldwater was a little too extreme, and, more importantly, a lot of people felt bad for LBJ that his former boss was publicly shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas (if you believe the official story, which I do).
However, this doesn’t mean that Alaska is a bastion of extreme conservatism.
Many of the issues that are important to Alaskans are part of the Republican platform (such as coal mining, oil drilling, etc.) and social values are often an afterthought to the often struggling northern economy.
What Kind of Conservative?
There are many flavors of conservative and many wings of the Republican Party these days, despite what people on Twitter might tell you.
People in Alaska tend to be a bit more libertarian than people in other Republican states. This is because a lot of people come here and want to be left alone.
For many people, Alaska’s biggest draw is its solitude and isolation. The last thing these people want to do is concern themselves with their neighbors and their activities.
This has established a laissez-faire mentality of live and let live. Perhaps it’s just the harsh realities of living in Alaska but establishing a living and building a sense of community have always trumped one’s orientation in Alaska.
Alaska Native Traditions Surrounding LGBTQ+ Individuals
Many Alaska Native tribes have long held pro-LGBTQ beliefs, including the Aleut, the Alutiiq, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, and several others.
Each of these tribes’ traditional languages features a term or terms referring to male-to-female or female-to-male transgenders.
The Aleut in particular not only recognize these terms but have had special roles in their societies for these people for many years.
The term “two-spirit” is often used by Native Alaskan tribes to refer to transgendered people or those experiencing gender dysphoria.
Many of these beliefs have trickled down to non-natives and continue to influence the beliefs in the state.
Other Alaskan Traits
A common phrase I hear all the time around Southeast Alaska is “I’m nice to everyone until they give me a reason not to be.” This sums up the general attitude most Alaskans have towards others.
The only real exception you’ll see are the people who hate society, came to Alaska to get away from everything, and are annoyed that they have to interact with other people to buy food or home improvement items.
These people are pretty rare, though, so I wouldn’t expect to run into many of them on your vacation.
Alaskans are also a pretty religious group of people. According to a Pew Research Study a few years back, 79% of Alaskans identified as Christians.
Of those, 47% of respondents identified as some form of Protestant, 14% as Roman Catholic, and 12.5% as Eastern Orthodox (because of the heavy Russian influences in part of the state, since Alaska was formerly a territory of Russia).
Of those in the survey, only 16% identified as agnostic or atheist, with 1% of those interviewed refusing to answer at all.
Religion, as well, often plays second fiddle to just living and dealing with everyday business in Alaska so the overall religiosity cannot be taken as being hostile or unwelcoming.
What does this actually mean for LGBTQ visitors?
This means that over 90% of people you encounter here will be polite and friendly towards you, regardless of your orientation, gender identity, skin color, or anything else about you.
Despite the stereotypes surrounding The Republican Party and members of the Religious Right, Alaska is one of the more LGBTQ-friendly states in the union.
And, after all, many of the experiences that people have living in the state are minimized if you’re just traveling to to area.
If you’re simply looking to experience the state of Alaska your orientation will, more than likely, not be something that anyone cares about.
If, however, you want to make an experience with the local LGBTQ community a more central focus of your vacation you might have a difficult time. Not because it’s discouraged but, in small and isolated cities, there are very few resources available to support diversity.
Your best bet would be to spend time in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, where you can find one of the best gay bars in the entire United States (at least I’m told it is…) Mad Myrna’s.
Let’s take a look at some of the laws passed both statewide and on the local level that relate to the LGBTQ Community.
Alaska’s State Laws
Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in the state of Alaska going back to January 1, 1980.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Alaska since 2014 and those couples have been legally allowed to adopt, both stepchildren and joint adoptions.
Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Anchorage ban discrimination in private employment, housing, and public accommodations based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
There is no such statewide law with these protections, but those four communities comprise just under half of the state’s population.
The city council of Fairbanks tried to pass such a bill a few years back, but despite 80% of public comments being in favor, the mayor vetoed the bill.
Fairbanks does have a law designed to protect city employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation, however.
There are no laws, either way, detailing whether LGTBQ subjects can be discussed in schools. It wasn’t really discussed either way when I was in high school, but I also graduated 15 years ago, so things may have changed.
Now, I should point out that this is simply my experience as a heterosexual man living in Juneau, Alaska. Some of it, however, is based on what I’ve heard from others.
I have several friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, however, and they have spoken at length about their experiences. Sometimes it was directly to me and other times, I just happened to be there as they explained to someone else.
They’ve all had positive things to say about the general response. Each of them has a negative story about meeting someone’s parents or an older person whose reaction upset them.
However, on balance, they tell me that the response is better up here than some places they’ve been to down south.
I also looked up Alaska on “EqualDex,” a website that is designed to rank various locations on their attitudes and laws towards the LGBTQ Community.
That particular website doesn’t think very kindly of us, it seems, based on our 64/100 score.
The United States as a whole is given a score of 81/100, which suggests that our lack of statewide laws granting protected status to sexual orientation and gender identity is the main thing bringing down our score.
The state is covered by federal law in that respect, for the record, but it’s not really my place to argue with their methodology.
I could be wrong, but in my experience growing up here, Alaska is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly states that you can visit.
If you do meet someone that’s rude and unwelcoming, it’s more than likely because you’re a tourist and that’s all they see or care about knowing.
Your results may vary (and I hope they don’t!), but I almost guarantee that if you come to visit Alaska in any capacity, you’ll have a wonderful time and feel extremely welcomed by everyone you meet!