Alaska is somewhere that has been on our bucket list for a very long time. Whilst our knowledge is limited to glaciers, snow-capped mountains, whales and grizzly bears, every photo we see of the incredible landscape and wildlife just makes us more eager to visit!
Whilst a lot of the states in America are well-known for being either very gay-friendly, or the complete opposite, ‘gay Alaska’ wasn’t something we knew anything about.
To find out more, we spoke to local gay guy Victor, from Anchorage. Here’s what he has to say about being gay in Alaska.
Hi Victor! Can you first please introduce yourself to our readers? Tell them a little bit about yourself – where you are from / your hobbies and interests etc.
Hi guys! I’m Victor. I’m 36 years old, born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, but I’ve also spent a significant amount of time at Alexander Creek. Alexander Creek is a tiny community off the road system, meaning you can only reach it by boat, sea plane or snowmachine (we don’t call them snowmobiles in Alaska).
I have been married twice. The 1st time was to a woman, and I have two biological daughters. I have been with my husband, Eric, for just over six years now. We were married in Alaska in 2016 and I’ve never been happier.
Despite growing up in such a remote location I’ve visited at least 14 countries, aswell as 24 states within the United States of America. Many of these locations we visited as a couple.
I have also lived in what is now named Nishiwaga-cho, a remote, picturesque village in the mountains of Iwate, Japan in 2001/02. In 2017 we moved to the emerald coast of northwest Florida, and currently reside on the Tuscan coast of Italy.
I greatly enjoy going to new locations to experience the local culture and customs. I also love cooking and make most of our meals from scratch daily. I’m looking forward to getting back to my local central market for fresh ingredients after the current quarantine ends.
I tend to gravitate more to outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling, or exploring whatever natural environment we find ourselves in at the time. However, don’t be surprised to catch me at a pride event or night club in the gay districts of the world!
Alaska as a destination is very high up on our bucket list. Can you give us a bit of an insight into the destination – the highlights etc?
Alaska is truly a last frontier in the world. It has a total population of around 700k – 750k people with a huge land mass.
Anchorage is the only city that I consider to actually feel like a city. Approximately half of the state’s population lives in that one city alone. This means that you can be in a natural, isolated setting within an hour or less by car from Anchorage.
If I was to plan the ultimate Alaska trip it would start with a cruise up the Inside Passage of southeast Alaska. Stop in the small villages along the way and learn something of the native cultures that have lived in the part of the largest temperate rainforest on the planet. We did this by ferry, bringing our car and a dog. You can board in Alaska and head south or in Bellingham, Washington and travel north from there.
Whittier, Seward or Homer are great towns to pick up a day wildlife watching cruise. Or book a deep-sea fishing trip, which is my preferred way. You’ll see all the same wildlife ranging from gray, humpback and killer whales (Orcas) to sea birds, seal, otters, mountain goats, Dall sheep and you’ll probably go home with fresh salmon, sea bass or halibut.
Moving north, Anchorage is the center of city life for the nearest thousand miles. You’ll find many modern conveniences here including the big box stores, shopping, museums (I held an annual pass to the museum in Anchorage and highly recommend a visit there, it’s also very child friendly). Most anything you would want is available 24 hours a day.
The zoo is home to animals native to Alaska that have been rescued from the wild, and that would be unable to live in their natural environments, typically due to injuries or abandonment at a young age.
Anchorage is home to Lake Hood, the busiest sea plane base in the world. Book a flight seeing tour to get a view of the vast expanses of uninhabited land. See mountain peaks and glaciers, moose, bear and the many bodies of water.
Consider driving or taking the train to Denali National Park to see the rugged majesty of North Americas highest peak, Mt. McKinley which stands 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. Before you get there stop in Talkeetna for lunch. Whether you decide to spend the night in the park or keep going is up to you. The mountain is known to hide in the clouds so if it’s important to see it give yourself ample time and opportunity.
Keep going North to Fairbanks – a gold mining town built on the banks of the Yukon River. Personally, I wouldn’t spend a night in Fairbanks, rather book yourself a treat at Chena River Hotsprings.
It’s exactly what it sounds like, a rustic Alaskan style resort with a large outdoor hotspring. There is also an indoor pool. This is must do especially in winter.
Not only is it a hotspring but they also produce much of the energy used geothermally. They have on site greenhouses that produce many of the vegetables used in the restaurant and an ice hotel with intricate carvings and sculpture and a bar. The martini wasn’t the best, but the novelty of having it in an all ice martini glass, sitting on an ice bar stool, was definitely Instagram worthy!
My favorite bit of road in all of Alaska run through Keystone Canyon on the way to Valdez. After taking in the panoramic vistas of Thompson Pass, the road skinnies down following Lowe River. High waterfalls, an old railroad, vertical vegetation covered walls with a river at the bottom are unmatched nearly anywhere I’ve been.
Valdez is another great spot to board a ferry, take a sightseeing tour by air or water, fish for salmon from the bank and watch wildlife. In winter consider heli-skiing in the backcountry. Valdez has massive annual snowfalls so do not try this drive in the winter unless you have a properly equipped vehicle and significant snow and ice driving skills.
There’s definitely a lot to do in Alaska! That sounds like a great itinerary, thanks so much for taking the time to put that together.
Let’s talk a little bit about ‘gay Alaska’ then, starting with what is the local opinion/vibe towards LGBTQ+ people in Anchorage?
Nowadays, for the most part, people tolerate and even accept LGBTQ+ people. I should clarify that this is specific to Anchorage. While a few other cities/towns have a small LGBTQ+ presence, the level of acceptance in remote areas is less than in the city.
Same sex marriage was legalized in 2014. However, there are still laws on the books that allow active discrimination especially with regard to transgender persons.
There is a program that exists in Anchorage where drag queens read stories to children at a local library. People regularly demonstrate against this program. There is even a “Queens Guard” to act as a buffer for persons attending the event. Think of the gays you see in front of the protests at pride events, they act similarly.
Have you seen these views change over time? Is it any different now than when you were in high school?
Absolutely! Legalized same sex marriage is definitely the biggest change.
My high school was at the forefront of LGBTQ+ presence in schools at the time for having a “Gay/Straight Alliance” club. I remember posters in the school being desecrated. Public displays of hate were common and often unchecked.
There was even an outcry from the community on both sides of the debate. If I remember correctly legislation was even drafted in an attempt to block the club from operating in the school.
There were very few members, I knew some of them, but did not participate myself. I had two friends at the time that even pressured me to join but I did not out of fear of repercussions. Retrospectively, I should have been more honest with myself.
How does this compare to the rest of Alaska? Furthermore, how does this view compare to other major states?
What some people might not realise is that the capital of Alaska is not Anchorage – rather it is Juneau. There, I think the view and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is probably on par with Anchorage.
However, in the rest of the state, I would be very aware of my surroundings. I have friends that live and work in remote areas of the state, even some in the drag scene. I absolutely believe, legal or not, living out of the closet will negatively affect one’s ability to get a job, rent an apartment and might even make you a target for petty crime. If you’re one of those friends reading this please speak up if I’m wrong.
The thing about the United States is that each state is very different. Even the cities within each state vary a great deal. I think Anchorage has many similarities to the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, aswell as parts of Oregon or Montana.
Alaska has always been a very conservative state, but we don’t have as many of the religious norms that exist in the Southern United States.
Overall, today, I think Alaska has one of the friendliest groups of people in the nation. It has a very small town, ‘everyone knows everyone’ feel. We love tourists and many communities survive predominately on tourism. These days I think the attitude is very much “live and let live”.
What are the local state laws like when it comes to equality – eg gay marriage etc.
There’s a phrase in America “The good old boys” referring to a group of persons who have the ability to greatly affect the outcome of many situations. While a law may or may not exist, the “good old boys” system is alive and well in Alaska. While it may be more associated with the southern United States, we have adopted and perfected it.
I’m not well informed on the specifics of the laws involved with the exception of marriage being legal.
I will say that Alaska is a “right to work” state, meaning that you can be fired or laid off without stating why.
Have you ever experienced any homophobia in your home town / state?
Yes. In high school, people called me out more than once, despite me not being ‘out’, and I have had plenty of slurs thrown at me.
I recall one incident specifically at work as a dental assistant. I had a middle aged adult male patient ask how I felt about doing a womans job. I’m not a subtle person, response was to ask how he liked having a man in his mouth. This gives you some idea of my personality. Most people that know me wouldn’t pick an argument.
My younger brother is also gay. He came out the year after I left the house. He experienced the horror story – kicked out of the house, legally emancipated, living in a shelter for youth. Luckily he found employment with a gay business owner, after finishing high school in a military school after dropping out of the same high school I attended.
Can you tell us about the local gay scene (if there is one)? Your favourite bars, club etc.
Thankfully there is a local gay scene in Anchorage, consisting predominantly of three bars.
Mad Myrnas is by far the most popular. It sits in downtown Anchorage and has weekly drag shows, karaoke and other such events. This bar has been ranked in the top 200 gay bars of the world by Out Magazine (I think this was in 2013), and has produced several queens that have gone on to acts in Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas and Atlanta to name a few.
There’s an outdoor section, a dance floor, a main bar area with pool tables, and a ballroom with stage and seating. Each section has a separate bar available. This is where you should be on Friday night if you’re looking for the gays in Anchorage. The head bar tender (barman) was our wedding officiant!
Also available is the Raven. This is more of a tavern style bar. Think less circuit party more bear/otter/pup/leather-ish. They used to host underwear party nights. They also have shuffle board, a smaller dance floor, pool tables and an outdoor section.
Newer to the scene, and while not a “gay bar”, Vans dive bar is certainly gay friendly and worth checking out if you’re making the rounds. Bernie’s Bungalow Lounge also falls into the gay friendly territory. Rent a hookah and people watch, you’ll see family there for sure.
The capital Juneau also has an LGBTQ+ scene, but I’m not highly familiarized with it.
Finally, do you have any advice for gay travelers visiting Anchorage/Alaska?
If you want the winter experience, subzero temperatures, ice and snow sculptures and sled dogs, visit in February.
Plan on attending the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival. This is essentially a two week long celebration with live shows, parties, winter sports like outhouse races and snowshoe softball. Try your hand at running with the reindeer through downtown Anchorage culminating in the start of the Iditarod. You might be able to squeeze in some time are the world ice art championships in Fairbanks on the way to Chena.
If you’re going in summer, hit it in June. Find the dates for the Juneteenth festival in Anchorage, which usually occurs near the summer solstice (June 21st, midnight sun) and Anchorage’s Gay Pride festival.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’m happy to answer specific questions if you’d like to contact me via Instagram or Facebook.
https://www.instagram.com/oshyori/ While the account is private, send a request anyway!
Victor, we can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer our questions on ‘gay Alaska’, and in such detail too!
You have definitely given both ourselves and our readers a really good insight into what life is like being gay in Alaska, aswell as sharing some top travel tips too!
Alaska definitely remains one for the bucket list!
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