Metro Weekly

Conservatives sue to block transgender women from Alaskan homeless shelter

Anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom is making refusing entry to transgender women a "religious freedom" issue

Downtown Soup Kitchen (Hope Center) in Anchorage, Alaska – Photo: Facebook.

An evangelical anti-LGBTQ organization is suing to prevent transgender women in Anchorage, Alaska, from accessing a homeless women’s shelter.

Alliance Defending Freedom, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a right-wing group which provides assistance to those engaging in anti-LGBTQ legal action.

Their previous efforts include supporting the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who gained notoriety after refusing to bake cakes for LGBTQ people.

Now, ADF has Anchorage’s pro-LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance in their sights, and is suing the city in federal court to overturn the ordinance and stop it applying to faith-based shelter Hope Center.

A homeless transgender woman, identified only as “Jane Doe,” complained to Anchorage’s Equal Rights Commission last year after she was twice denied entry to Hope Center in January 2018.

Though the shelter, which is faith-based, had grounds to deny entry during Alaska’s freezing winter — the woman was apparently drunk on her first attempt to enter, and after hours on her second — an attorney for the shelter told a local newspaper that they wouldn’t admit a “biological male” regardless of the circumstances.

That comment led to the city of Anchorage filing a complaint against the shelter, which joined with the Equal Rights Commission in investigating Hope Center.

The shelter has thus far refused to cooperate with the investigation, according to the Daily News-Miner.

Now, ADF attorneys are pushing for a special exemption for the shelter, due to its charity status and faith-based origins.

ADF attorney Ryan Tucker told U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason that women had told shelter staff that “they would rather sleep in the woods” than share a space with a transgender woman.

In its initial filing of the lawsuit last year, ADF argued that the city of Anchorage had infringed on Hope Center’s “religious freedom” in applying the nondiscrimination ordinance to the shelter.

But Ryan Stuart, assistant municipal attorney, said that the city opposed ADF and Hope Center’s push for an injunction against the nondiscrimination ordinance because the investigation against Hope Center had not yet concluded.

He added that the ordinance had no exemptions for shelters, and if there was one, it is “a legal theory that cannot be described as obvious.”

David Dinielli, Deputy Legal Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told local station KTUU that ADF and Hope Center are “trying to use their own purported religious beliefs to impose them on others and kick LGBT people out from spaces, from schools, from bakeries and apparently in now in Anchorage, also from shelters.

“In our most vulnerable moments they think that their right to hate should trump our right to live. This is not the Alaska way. This is not the Anchorage way.”

Anchorage’s voters have already signalled their support for the city’s transgender community.

A ballot measure last year tried to remove transgender protections from the nondiscrimination ordinance, but voters rejected the measure, with almost 53% supporting keeping protections for trans people in the ordinance.

At the time, HRC President Chad Griffin called the vote a “truly historic election,” adding that Anchorage voters had “refused to succumb to hate and bigotry by rejecting this discriminatory, anti-transgender ballot measure.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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