After the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission (AERC) filed a discrimination complaint against the Downtown Hope Center for turning away a transgender individual, the Christian women’s shelter in Anchorage, Alaska, filed a religious freedom lawsuit to fight back.
The Hope Center, defended by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), issued a constitutional challenge to Anchorage’s nondiscrimination law, adopted in 2015, that expanded its protected classes to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
On Jan. 26, the Hope Center refused to admit Timothy Coyle—who goes by Samantha Coyle—at the overnight center after another shelter banned Coyle from the premises for drunkenness and starting a fight. The Hope Center offers support services for the city’s homeless men and women, including lunch and shower facilities. Coyle has used those services without incident in the past. But, at night, the shelter becomes a sanctuary for women only, with some of its clients seeking refuge from the sex trade and abusive relationships. On Feb. 1, Coyle filed a discrimination complaint with the AERC, saying, “I am female and transgender, thus I belong to a protected class.”
Lawyer Kevin Clarkson with the firm Brena, Bell, and Clarkson, who initially defended the Hope Center, argued the center turned Coyle away because of the individual’s intoxication, not because of gender identity. The AERC sued Clarkson and his law firm, alleging discrimination after he commented to a reporter on the case. Clarkson is being defended by First Liberty Institute, and the Hope Center had to find new representation with ADF.
ADF said in the complaint that Anchorage is “harassing the Hope Center in bad faith. … These investigations prove that Anchorage is using its law—a law which contains an express exemption for homeless shelters—and will continue to use this law in the future to force the Hope Center to change its faith-based policies.”
ADF’s lawsuit also claims the Hope Center should be able to prohibit transgender individuals having access to the shelter overnight. “It would not only be dangerous and against common sense, but would violate the Hope Center’s sincerely held religious beliefs to admit biological men into its shelter and allow them to sleep side by side and disrobe next to women, some of whom have been assaulted by men and fear for their safety,” ADF said in the complaint.
The federal lawsuit asks the AERC to end the investigation. —Harvest Prude