In the News

Anchorage attorney faces discrimination complaint while defending faith-based homeless shelter

July 10, 2018

An Anchorage attorney has been served with a discrimination complaint while defending a faith-based Anchorage homeless shelter from its own discrimination complaint.

The case began in January when a transgender woman was turned away from a homeless shelter in downtown Anchorage. In recent months it’s evolved into a heated dispute between attorneys and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, leading to allegations that an attorney is not being allowed to adequately represent his client.

The underlying case
Transgender woman Samantha Coyle filed a complaint with the AERC Feb. 1 against the Downtown Hope Center claiming that she was refused entry to the shelter based on her gender identity.

A municipal ordinance says it is illegal for public accommodations to discriminate against someone based on gender identity among other categories like race, age and sexuality.

Kevin Clarkson, an attorney with Brena, Bell and Clarkson, gave a brief to the AERC where he argued as a private faith-based facility, the shelter is not subject to discrimination laws on public accommodations.

Secondly, Clarkson argued that first amendment protections on religious freedom allow the shelter to refuse entry to a so-called “biological male” in a shelter for abused and battered women.

Finally, Laurie claims that Coyle had been intoxicated when she arrived which would be in breach of the shelter’s rules on sobriety.

The Anchorage Equal Rights Commission is hearing the complaint but Pamela Basler, the executive director of the commission, explained that she can’t confirm or deny any aspects of the case due to a municipal statute that demands confidentiality.

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