City of Anchorage Drops Discrimination Complaint Against Christian Women’s Shelter

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, agreed Sept. 30 to drop a complaint against a local, faith-based women’s shelter for refusing to allow a biological male to spend the night at its facility. As specified by the settlement, the city will pay $100,000 to the shelter, Downtown Hope Center, to cover its legal expenses.

The complaint was filed with the city’s Equal Rights Commission in January 2018 after Downtown Hope Center wouldn’t let the “inebriated and injured” biological man who identified as a woman spend the night. Instead, the shelter paid for a taxi to transport the man to a hospital. The complaint alleged that the center had discriminated against the man based on gender identity.

Downtown Hope Center countered by filing a lawsuit against the city of Anchorage in federal court.

“It would not only be dangerous and against common sense,” the lawsuit read, “but it would violate the Hope Center’s sincerely held religious belief to admit biological men into its shelter and allow them to sleep side by side and disrobe next to women.”

In August, a federal court sided with the shelter, ruling in a temporary order that Downtown Hope Center did not violate Anchorage’s public accommodation law and would be free to deny biological men access to its facilities when it comes to overnight stays.

Municipal attorney Rebecca Windt Person said the city agreed to settle because it became apparent that Downtown Hope Center is not a public accommodation, and therefore, is exempt from the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

The city’s decision to drop the case makes the August ruling permanent.

“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 Kate Anderson, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the law firm which represented the center.

“This is the right outcome,” Anderson said. “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.”

Anderson’s colleague and also senior counsel, Ryan Tucker, agreed: “The end of this case means the center can continue its critically needed work to help the vulnerable women it serves and fulfill its duty to do everything it can to protect them.”

 

Above: Sherrie Laurie, executive director of Downtown Hope Center in Anchorage, Alaska

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom