Faith-Based Women's Shelter in Legal Battle Over Turning Away Man Who Identifies As a Woman

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 2:30 PM
Faith-Based Women's Shelter in Legal Battle Over Turning Away Man Who Identifies As a Woman

Nearly a year ago, the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission filed suit against a Christian women’s shelter for not allowing a man to sleep there overnight.

Now, the commission is also going after the attorney representing the shelter.

It was on January 28, 2018, when Timothy Coyle knocked on the door of Hope Women’s Shelter.

Drunk, visibly wounded, and wearing a woman’s nightgown, Coyle--a biological male who identifies as a woman and goes by the name Samantha--told the female Hope employee at the door that he’d just been kicked out of the nearby Brother Francis Shelter, for fighting.

Sherrie Laurie, Hope’s director, ultimately told Coyle that he couldn’t stay at the Christian shelter. (Hope houses battered women, in addition to victims of sex-trafficking.) Instead, she gave him money for a cab and sent him to the emergency room for treatment, recommending that he eventually make his way to the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC.)

Coyle, however was persistent, and returned to Hope the next day.

That was when shelter employees told him yet again that he would not be permitted to stay. They say they rejected Coyle for a number of reasons, including the fact that he’d arrived prior to the time when the day’s admissions were being accepted.

Four days later, Timothy Coyle filed a complaint with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, claiming he was discriminated against on the basis of his sexual identity. A municipal ordinance in Anchorage includes an anti-discrimination statute that, since 2015, names gender identity as a protected class.

But the lawyer for Hope Women’s Shelter disagreed. Attorney Kevin Clarkson argued that the statute doesn’t apply, since Hope is a private faith-based facility and not a public accommodation.

Clarkson further claimed that to admit a man for the night would ultimately jeopardize the shelter’s mission to women. The residents reportedly all sleep in one room, in close proximity to one another. As the result of prior abuse, many women residing in the shelter don’t feel comfortable near men. According to Clarkson, permitting a man to sleep in the room would “traumatize and present unreasonable safety risks for the abused and battered women who are admitted for overnight shelter.”

It should also be noted that Hope Women’s Shelter has provided Coyle with a number of services in the past, including meals and private showers. He has simply not been permitted to stay overnight.

Now several months later, Kevin Clarkson himself is being sued.

The Anchorage Equal Rights Commission has additionally filed a discrimination complaint against Hope’s attorney, claiming he has “been identified as the source of statements and information, published in various printed media sources, which implied or stated that transgender individuals would not be allowed to be “sheltered” at the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center.”

The First Liberty Institute, a Texas law firm specializing in the protection of religious liberty, has taken up Clarkson’s case.

First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser is concerned about the implications for lawyers and their clients. “You could file brief with a court, or in this case a commission, trying to advocate on legal grounds and then members of the media quote it and then suddenly you’re going to be charged as well,” Sasser said.

 It is unknown what penalties Clarkson could face if found guilty. Both complaints remain unresolved at this time.