Women’s shelter can't be punished for denying access to men who identify as female, court rules

The Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center of Anchorage, Alaska.
The Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center of Anchorage, Alaska. | Alliance Defending Freedom

A federal court has given temporary protection to a faith-based women's shelter in Alaska against being punished for denying access to a man who identifies as transgender.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska issued a preliminary injunction last Friday for the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center of Anchorage, also known as the Downtown Hope Center, preventing the city of Anchorage from enforcing anti-discrimination laws against the nonprofit organization.

District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued the injunction, believing that while preventing “discrimination against protected classes is clearly an important public interest” the local rules “do not appear to apply to Hope Center’s homeless shelter.”

“Therefore, enjoining the enforcement of those provisions against Hope Center’s homeless shelter will not significantly curtail the public interest,” Gleason said.

“Moreover, the provision of overnight living space for homeless persons furthers the public interest. Affidavits submitted by persons who have used Hope Center’s overnight living space support the conclusion that the public interest would be adversely affected if [Anchorage Municipal Code] §§ 5.20.020 and 5.20.050 were enforced against Hope Center.”

Kate Anderson, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which is helping to represent the Hope Center, celebrated the injunction.

“All Americans should be free to live out their faith and serve their neighbors—especially homeless women who have suffered sexual abuse—without being targeted or harassed by the government,” Anderson said Friday.

“No woman—particularly not an abuse survivor—should be forced to sleep or disrobe next to a man. The court’s order will allow the center to continue in its duty to protect the vulnerable women it serves while this lawsuit moves forward.”

Last November, the Downtown Hope Center filed a lawsuit against the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission following a complaint that was lodged against them by a trans-identified individual whom the charity had denied entry in January 2018.

Identified in court documents as "Jessie Doe," according to the plaintiffs, the person showed up drunk at the shelter in January and was then given a cab ride to a hospital paid for by the shelter.

Jessie Doe filed a complaint against the shelter before the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission. The Hope Center filed the suit before the commission reached a decision in the complaint.

In January, the trans-identified individual, who goes by the name Samantha Coyle, went public in an interview with news outlet KTUU. In the interview, Coyle asserted that the shelter was wrong in their actions.

“They let two women in, the other two women in, then stopped me and said, 'No, you can't come in, you're not female. You're male,’” Coyle told KTUU. “No, I'm female. What you are doing is wrong.”

“Jesus Christ would not have denied me entrance or anybody like me based on my outer appearance. We must treat people with love and respect and dignity whomever they are, because it's on the inside, and that's all I have to say.”  

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