Homeless Shelter Featured in Alaska Anti-Trans Bathroom Ad Wasn’t Asked First

An appallingly offensive ad released on Tuesday by the campaign to pass an anti-trans bathroom measure in Anchorage takes aim at a transgender woman who was recently turned away from a homeless shelter. The shelter says the campaign didn’t ask their permission to be included in the commercial.

The 30-second spot opens with ominous music.

“On January 29, a man claiming to be a woman tried to enter a shelter for abused women,” the narrator says. “He wanted to sleep and shower with the women. Now the man is claiming gender identity discrimination and is using the Anchorage law to force his way in.”

The “man” in question is, in fact, a transgender woman named Samantha Coyle. In a complaint filed to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, she alleges discrimination on the basis of her gender identity against Downtown Hope Center. Coyle claims she was barred entry twice because she is transgender. The Commission has not yet reached a conclusion in the case.

Kevin Clarkson, an attorney for the Downtown Hope Center, previously told the Anchorage Daily News that Coyle was barred entry because she was intoxicated and came to shelter after it was closed.

However, he adds that as a religious organization, Downtown Hope Center would not house a “biological man.”

Alaska Family Action, which is spearheading Yes on 1, has also posted about the incident on Facebook. “A Yes on Prop 1 vote gives this faith-based shelter the right to make their own policies and keep biological men out,” the group claims.

But Charlee Lauree, a spokesperson for Downtown Hope Center, says the shelter does follow municipal code, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in public accommodations. She tells INTO in a phone conversation the shelter has housed transgender women in the past.

“What Jim Minnery and Prop. 1 did, they did without talking to us,” Lauree says.

The spokesperson declined to comment further on the commercial, adding that the shelter will be issuing a statement within a day.

Anchorage voters will have until April 3 to sound off on the referendum regarding Proposition 1, which critics believe is the most dangerous anti-trans bathroom bill yet. If the measure passes, trans people will be forced to use bathroom facilities which match their original birth certificates. Thus, even if a trans woman were to update all her identity documents, she would still have to use the men’s restroom in public.

The commercial is the second in a series of ads being released by the Yes on 1 campaign in support of the ballot initiative mailed to voters this month.

Last week, the Yes campaign ran a $23,000 media blitz on TV, airing more than 30 commercials on local channels. This week, the group has shelled over than $15,000 to broadcast their message in between shows like Newshour and Morning Edition. Still, Fair Anchoragethe campaign against the measurehas largely outspent the opposition on advertising.

Kati Ward, campaign manager for Fair Anchorage, denounced the Yes on 1 ad in a statement to INTO.

“No one was hurt here, and this isn’t about exploitation,” she says. “This was about a vulnerable person on hard times seeking shelter.”

In support of the ballot measure, the Yes campaign released an advertisement on March 12 alleging trans people pose a threat to women and children, a harmful myth which has been widely debunked.

The 30-second TV spot features a woman named “Kate” recounting an experience in which she shared a changing facility with a trans person. She claims the individual, who is referred to as a “biological male” throughout the ad, watched the women in the locker room shower.

Kate adds that staff members failed to intervene, telling her the individual identifies as a woman and claiming that she “was the one with the problem.”

“Predatory men are using these laws to violate women,” she concludes.

The Yes on 1 commercial came under fire, however, after INTO reported that its subject isn’t from Alaskawhich wasn’t disclosed by the campaign. “Kate” is actually Kate Ives, a Minnesota woman who has testified in favor of an anti-trans bathroom bill in her home state.

Ives previously appeared in a 2016 video from the Family Policy Alliance called “Ask Me First,” in which she tells a longer version of the story included in the Yes campaign ad.

In response to criticism the campaign brought in an outsider for the commercial, Yes on 1 Chairman Jim Minnery says he couldn’t find anyone in Alaska to come forward. Minnery claims via email the “local residents” who approached his team “are afraid to tell their stories.”

But several independent research studies have shown trans people do not endanger others in either homeless shelters or bathroom facilities.

More than 250 domestic violence and sexual assault organizations in the U.S. issued a statement in 2016 blasting anti-LGBTQ initiatives like North Carolina’s House Bill 2. As they report, more than 200 municipalities have passed laws allowing trans people to use the restroom of their choice and none has seen an increase in “public safety issues” as a result.

“We operate and advocate for rape crisis centers and shelters all over the country, including in cities and states with nondiscrimination protections for transgender people,” they said. “Those protections have not weakened public safety or criminal laws, nor have they compromised their enforcement.”

In a phone call with INTO, Minnery questioned the validity of Laurie’s statement, stating that a personal friend at the shelter told him they did not accept “biological males.”

In an email Wednesday, Laurie said more information would not yet be released.

“I cannot comment any further at this time,” Laurie wrote.


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a trans news and features reporter and former associate editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times.

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