A homeless shelter that was a focal point in Anchorage’s battle over trans rights last year has prevailed in its lawsuit from a transgender woman who says she was barred entry.
Downtown Hope Center found itself embroiled in Anchorage’s fight over keeping transgender bathroom protections in January of 2018 after Samantha Coyle said the shelter kicked her out for being transgender. However, a Monday decree between the city and the shelter this week states that the location can operate as a private shelter and turn people away based on their gender identity.
The agreement comes after a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against the city that signaled it was likely to lose in anti-discrimination case against the shelter. The city has agreed to pay the shelter $1 in damages and $100,000 in legal fees.
The case has been a hot-button issue after the shelter was dragged into the fight over Anchorage’s Proposition 1, the 2018 ballot measure that would have prevented trans people from using city bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity.
In a complaint filed to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, Coyle claimed the shelter discriminated against her because she is trans. The shelter, however, said it barred Coyle because she was intoxicated. Via its attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Center stated: An “injured man dressed in a pink nightgown tried to gain access to the women’s shelter.” The statement referred to Coyle.
“The Hope Center sent the individual to the hospital to get needed care, even paying for the taxi,” ADF said in a statement.
But while ADF claimed that Coyle’s gender identity had nothing to do with the shelter’s refusal to host her, the incident became a talking point for the campaign to repeal trans protections in anchorage. Days after the incident, Yes on 1: Protect Our Privacy, released an ad stating that if Anchorage voters failed to Pass Prop. 1, “men” would be allowed into women’s shelters.
“On January 29, a man claiming to be a woman tried to enter a shelter for abused women,” the narrator of the ad claims. “He wanted to sleep and shower with the women. Now the man is claiming gender identity discrimination and is using the Anchorage law to force his way in.”
Prop 1 ultimately failed at the ballot box, and the win for LGBTQ rights was seen as a litmus test for similar fights nationwide.
But the fight over the Downtown Hope Center, and the ad had a painful impact on the city’s transgender residents. And the shelter went to court over what it said was its right as a religious entity to skirt the city’s public accommodations rules. The shelter and ADF misgendered trans women as men.
“No woman—particularly not an abuse survivor—should be forced to sleep or disrobe next to a man,” ADF claimed in a statement.
In a statement to NBC News, the Anchorage Municipal Attorney Becky Windt Pearson said U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason made clear that the city would lose its case in court.
"We had a fairly clear message from the federal court through Judge Gleason's order that she did not think that we would prevail in our argument that downtown Hope Center fell within the definition of public accommodation," Windt Pearson said.
The agreement in Anchorage comes at a time of national debate over trans rights in shelters. In May, the Trump administration started moving to strip Obama-era protections for trans people in federally funded shelters. But earlier this summer, the City of New York bolstered its trans shelter protections after a resident hit the city with a complaint because the relocated him to another shelter because he is trans.