ANCHORAGE — A conservative Christian law firm that has pushed religious issues in multiple states urged a U.S. judge on Friday to block Alaska’s largest city from requiring a faith-based women’s shelter to accept transgender women.
Alliance Defending Freedom has sued the city of Anchorage to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman last year. The lawsuit says homeless shelters are exempt from the local law and that constitutional principles of privacy and religious freedom are at stake.
Alliance attorney Ryan Tucker said many women at the shelter are survivors of violence and allowing biological men would be highly traumatic for them. He told U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason that women have told shelter officials that if biological men are allowed to spend the night alongside them, “they would rather sleep in the woods,” even in extreme cold like the city has experienced this week with temperatures hovering around zero.
Tucker said biological men are free to use the shelter during the day, adding there are other shelters in the city where men can sleep.
Ryan Stuart, an assistant municipal attorney, countered that the preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs was premature because an investigation by the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission had not been concluded, largely because of the shelter’s noncooperation. The investigation is on hold.
Stuart also said there is no homeless shelter exemption. If there is, he said, it is “a legal theory that cannot be described as obvious,” he said.
The city wants the federal court to abstain from the case, saying the matter should be allowed to proceed to completion by the commission.
At the end of the proceeding, Gleason said she will take the matter under advisement.
The shelter operators filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its Equal Rights Commission in August, months after a transgender woman complained to the commission that she was denied housing at the shelter.
The plaintiffs maintain the person identified only as “Jessie Doe” showed up inebriated after hours in January 2018 and was not turned away because of gender, a point Tucker raised again in court Friday. The shelter officials even paid for a taxi to take her to a hospital for treatment of a forehead wound from fighting at another shelter, according to alliance attorneys.
The same individual showed up the following day and again was denied entry, according to the motion for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs say they want the federal court to make clear that the shelter is not violating the law.
Alliance Defending Freedom also represented a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In a limited decision, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the baker, but it did not rule on the larger issue of whether businesses can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gays and lesbians.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the alliance as an LBGT hate group, one that seeks to push transgender people “back into the shadows.”
• This is an Associated Press report by Rachel D’Oro.