Anchorage officials cannot force a faith-based women’s shelter in Anchorage to admit biological males in its overnight facility. This comes after Anchorage officials dropped a complaint against the Downtown Hope Center over the shelter’s refusal to allow a man who identified as a woman into its facility.
According to a Sept. 30 order from U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, the city may not apply its non-discrimination code against the shelter. Additionally, the city must pay the shelter $100,000 to cover its attorney fees.
The controversy stems from an incident in January 2018. According to court documents from attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom who represented the shelter, Anchorage police officers dropped a biological male who identifies as a woman, off at the shelter. The person reportedly “smelled strongly of alcohol, acted agitated and aggressive, and had an open wound above the eye,” according to court documents.
Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the shelter, assessed the situation and said the man could not be admitted because they did not accept people who were inebriated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Laurie recommended he go to the hospital to receive medical care, court documents note. After much resistance, the man agreed, and Laurie paid for his cab ride.
“All Americans should be free to live out their faith and serve their neighbors – especially homeless women who have suffered sexual abuse or domestic violence – without being targeted or harassed by the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson following the legal victory
A few weeks later the man, who listed his name as Samantha Doyle, filed a complaint against the shelter with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, a nine-member agency charged with eliminating discrimination. These members issue subpoenas, gather evidence, call hearings and issue orders. Those who fail to cooperate are subject to a $75 fine for each offense.
The commission investigated Hope Center over claims that it violated the city’s ordinance prohibiting public accommodations from denying services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Attorneys for the shelter noted that the man was not denied access on the basis of sexual identity but rather because he was inebriated. The attorneys also pointed out that regardless of the reason for denying admittance, the city ordinance specifically exempts homeless shelters from the nondiscrimination code as regards sexual identity.
Downtown Hope Center provides overnight housing only to biological females to ensure that they have a safe place to stay and don’t have to sleep in close proximity to males. Many of the women at the shelter have been battered or sexually abused by men.
Founded 30 years ago by several Anchorage church leaders, Downtown Hope Center is a private, non-profit offering free religious teaching, counseling, food and shelter to Anchorage’s homeless women. Guests are invited to participate in prayer before meals, Bible studies, group devotions and church services.
According a court memo by Alliance Defending Freedom, Hope Center’s purpose is religious, “inspired by the love of Jesus” to help homeless women transform their lives.
“Hope Center lives out that religious mission through acts of service and the inculcation of Christian beliefs and values,” the memo states. “Those beliefs include that God creates people male or female, that a person’s sex is an immutable God-given gift, and that a person should not deny his or her God-given sex.”
“All Americans should be free to live out their faith and serve their neighbors – especially homeless women who have suffered sexual abuse or domestic violence – without being targeted or harassed by the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson following the legal victory. “This is the right outcome. Downtown Hope Center serves everyone, but women deserve a safe place to stay overnight. No woman – particularly not an abuse survivor – should be forced to sleep or disrobe next to a man.”