Arguing in Anchorage: Christian women's shelter feuds with transgender woman

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It’s been a very cold January in Alaska with temps in the -30s, -40s and even -50s in the central part of the state. It’s a tad warmer further to the south in Anchorage, but it’s still the kind of weather people can freeze to death in. That’s why homeless shelters are so important there.

But there’s something happening in Anchorage now that would give any director of a faith-based and feed-the-hungry shelter the willies. Imagine that your women’s only shelter includes a lot of women who’ve been raped or sexually molested in some way.

Then someone who is biologically a man — with an extensive criminal record — wants to share their sleeping space. And when the Associated Press rushes in to cover it, they concentrate not on the issues at hand but on how allegedly right-wing one of the legal organizations representing the shelter is. Read the following:

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.

The article appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, where (as I’m writing this) it has warmed up to 9 degrees. January nights are chilly up there.

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.

We learn further down that this transgender woman tried to get admitted to this shelter in January 2018 and has been giving them grief ever since. One reason she was turned down was because she was drunk and had a head wound gotten from a fight at another shelter (which had kicked her out). This person definitely has issues.

My problem with the story is how it ends. The reporter said that the ADF was also the same firm that represented Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a same-sex wedding cake and whose case ended up in front of the Supreme Court. Then:

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.”

Aargh. Double aargh.

The SPLC has had a ton of complaints (and one major lawsuit) about its false labeling and other missteps (you can tell I am no fan). Guess someone at AP didn’t get the memo. Also, how about a few words describing ADF’s record at SCOTUS? They are on a major winning streak there, and not just defending the rights of Christians.

Checking around, I found other versions of this affair at Must Read Alaska, an entertaining and blog (written by Suzanne Downing, the speech writer for former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell) that I discovered while living in Fairbanks four years ago.

Reading the blog, it’s obvious this transgender individual has quite a past, including armed robbery and theft. In describing why the folks running the shelter would be loath to let this individual walk around in the women’s sleeping area:

The Hope Center is run by Christians, with over 30 church partners. It also runs a soup kitchen, a culinary school to train people for jobs, and offers showers and bathrooms for both men and women.

But at night, the sleeping mats are rolled out where the food was served hours earlier, and desperate women, some who are escaping human trafficking, find safe shelter in one big room, crammed next to each other on the floor.

The women sleep beneath a large wooden cross, while the staff does their laundry for them overnight. In the morning, they have breakfast before leaving the shelter, and the staff turns its attention to providing lunches, showers, and bathrooms for all homeless people in need.

There’s no security guard minding this room, so it’s understandable why the females present might not want this individual there. Also, this person had presented as a “he” as recently as January 2017 when he was last in court.

Looking at how KTUU, an Anchorage radio station, covered this saga, I see that it also resurrected the SPLC specter and compared this case to the Colorado cake baker suit. Someone’s not doing their research. A homeless shelter presented with a drunk transgender person with a criminal record who needs hospital care is a whole different entity than a baker being told he has to create a certain kind of wedding cake for a gay couple. The latter involves artistic freedom whereas the Alaska shelter case does not and LGBT and transgender aren’t the same thing.

The matter has been bubbling for a year now and even though some of the local media are mocking ADF’s presence in this legal fight, it sounds like the shelter first tried to reason their way out of this, but — after months of pressure from the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission — it decided to call in the big guns and file a religious freedom lawsuit against the city, the commission and the commission’s executive director.

The ADF set out its version of the events in this recent editorial in the Anchorage Daily News.

The Daily News pointed out last spring that:

There were unresolved questions surrounding the Hope Center complaint. Kevin Clarkson, an attorney for the Hope Center, said the person who filed the complaint was not kept out of the shelter because they were transgender. He said it was because the person was intoxicated and came to the shelter while it was closed.

Even so, Clarkson said the Hope Center is a religious organization that would not allow a "biological man" to be sheltered there. The city's other two emergency women's shelters, one of which is run by Catholic Social Services, do take in transgender women.

Whether Prop. 1 — or the city's current, broader nondiscrimination laws that Prop. 1 seeks to amend — would apply to the Hope Center is open to debate. City law bars discrimination over sex and gender identity in public accommodations, but the Hope Center says it does not serve the general public.

This story has a lot of twists and turns, including several folks in the comments section pointing out that the transgender individual had been denied services elsewhere, but she was only going after Hope Center. I don’t see any interviews with the transgender woman in the various news articles I’ve called up, and other descriptions I’ve read sounds like this person is a few bulbs short of a chandelier.

I’m curious why the Anchorage paper even used the AP story in the first place, as it had its own reporters covering the fracas. The only reason for running it was to slam the ADF for showing up. It’s clear higher-ups at the city level didn’t have the leadership to nip this thing in the bud or the wisdom to resolve the dispute before it got to this point.

Note to AP: Stop citing the SPLC as some kind of fount of objective higher wisdom that decides who is and is not a hater. It’s high time it stops quoting that organization and taking it seriously. Some mainline media have already figured this out; it’s time you wised up, too.

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