City of Anchorage drops 'gender identity' complaint against women's shelter

Sleeping arrangements at the Downtown Hope Center womens shelter Credit  Alliance Defending Freedom Sleeping arrangements at the Downtown Hope Center women's shelter. | Alliance Defending Freedom.

The city of Anchorage has dropped a complaint filed with the city's Equal Rights Commission after a women's shelter in the city refused to allow a biological man to stay the night, it was announced on Monday, Sept. 30. 

The complaint was filed in 2018 after Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based women's shelter, declined to let an "inebriated and injured" biological man who identified as a woman to spend the night. Instead, Downtown Hope Center sent the individual to a hospital and paid for a taxi there. 

Later, the man filed a complaint against the shelter, which the city pursued. 

Downtown Hope Center was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, who filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Anchorage on their behalf. 

Many of the women who use the shelter overnight are survivors of domestic or sexual abuse. The center said it did not want to force vulnerable women to sleep next to a biological man, particularly one who was intoxicated. Downtown Hope Center is also a sober facility. The center serves food and provides services to everyone during the day, but is restricted to women at night.

Other shelters in Anchorage serve people of all genders. Earlier in the day, the same man who wished to sleep at Downtown Hope Center had been banned from one of these shelters for starting a fight. 

"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. 

"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."

The Equal Rights Commission accused the Downtown Hope Shelter of violating the city's public accommodation ordinance and engaging in gender identity discrimination. The shelter denied that they refused to host the man due to his gender identity. ADF further argued in court that the public accommodation ordinance already exempted homeless shelters, including women's-only shelters. 

A federal court sided with the shelter in the case The Downtown Soup Kitchen dba Downtown Hope Center v. Municipality of Anchorage. The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska ruled in a temporary order that the operation of a women-only shelter does not violate Anchorage's public accommodation law, nor does the law apply to the women's shelter. 

On Monday, ADF, along with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, jointly filed documents that would make the order permanent. The court has still to approve these documents. 

"Faith-based nonprofits should be free to serve consistently with their beliefs and mission," said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker. Tucker argued on behalf of Downtown Hope Center before the court.

"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."

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