Faith-based shelter fights to keep out transgender women

A conservative Christian law firm that has pushed religious issues in multiple states will urge 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. The lawsuit says homeless shelters are exempt from the local law and that constitutional principles of freedom of religion are at stake.

“The case is really about whether the Hope Center can operate according to its religious beliefs to provide the things that it does to the homeless population in Anchorage,” Kate Anderson, an attorney for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom said before the court hearing.

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 city says it was premature for the shelter to ask a judge to block the law because the commission’s investigation wasn’t finished, largely because the shelter wasn’t cooperating. The investigation is now on hold.

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. 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.”

Anderson said women at the shelter are most often survivors of violence, including rape and domestic abuse and that housing biological men would be highly traumatic for them.

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