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Attorneys for Anchorage Shelter in Prop. 1 Ad Fallout Slapped with Equal Rights Complaint

For most people, the fight over transgender bathroom protections in Anchorage, AK ended this spring when an extreme bathroom measure failed at the ballot.

But for the Downtown Hope Center, the conversation over transgender people in public accommodations just won’t die down. That’s probably due to the company they keep — which includes a national hate group.

The religious nonprofit serving women in Anchorage was the centerpiece of a flagrantly transphobic commercial peddled by the campaign backing Proposition 1.

In January, Downtown Hope Center barred transgender woman Samantha Coyle from entry, and Coyle hit back with a discrimination complaint via the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission. Coyle claimed the shelter ejected her because she was trans. The shelter has claimed Coyle was turned away because she was inebriated.

But it’s not the fight over Prop. 1 or even Coyle’s rights that is opening fresh wounds in Anchorage. The latest spat is over whether or not the Downtown Hope Center’s attorneys acted improperly in defending the shelter.

The Anchorage Equal Rights Commission (AERC) has hit Brena, Bell & Clarkson, P.C. with a complaint about statements it made to the press involving Coyle’s discrimination complaint.

Attorney Kevin Clarkson, who has ties to anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, may have violated the law by suggesting Coyle was unwelcome at the shelter.

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Clarkson gave a reporter Coyle’s deadname (her former name before transition), used male pronouns and told the paper she had been ejected from another facility for fighting. (The article has not been linked because it deadnames Coyle.)

“Clarkson said Coyle had regularly used showers and meal services during the daytime hours without incident,” Anchorage Daily News reported. “But he said the shelter saw Coyle as ‘obviously’ a man, and pointed to a criminal record that included a 2008 robbery conviction to back up concerns about letting Coyle inside.”

Clarkson also said the shelter would not house a “biological man.”

AERC keeps its complaints confidential, and Director Pamela Basler declined to share information on why a case was brought.

“I can’t confirm or deny that we have a particular case,” she said.

The existence of the complaint is only known because First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Brena, Bell & Clarkson, publicized it along with some of the court documents.

The filings suggest that AERC took issue with Clarkson’s Anchorage Daily News comments. It’s illegal in Anchorage to issue statements suggesting that people are unwelcome in public accommodations due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. AERC also categorizes “retaliation” as a form of discrimination.

First Liberty alleges that Clarkson is being targeted for simply representing the shelter.

“These unelected bureaucrats overstepped their authority by issuing a complaint against the shelter,” said Hiram Sasser, general counsel to First Liberty in a statement.  “They’re now attempting to punish the shelter and its attorney for talking about this case. Can anyone but the AERC talk publicly about this case?”

Unclear from the start has been the shelter’s stance on trans clients.

Despite the shelter’s claim that Coyle was turned away due to intoxication and not gender identity, the Yes on 1 campaign capitalized on the story in their commercial in the spring.

“On January 29, a man claiming to be a woman tried to enter a shelter for abused women,” the narrator said. “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.”

Further confusing matters, Charlee Lauree, a spokesperson for the shelter, initially told INTO that the shelter followed municipal code, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in public accommodations.

“What Jim Minnery and Prop. 1 did, they did without talking to us,” Lauree said of the ad.

Minnery, the Yes on 1 Chairman, refuted that version of events in a phone call with INTO, stating unequivocally that the shelter did bar “biological males.”

Clarkson’s comments to media lend credence to Minnery’s narrative as does another detail. When asked to speak to the AERC complaint against its attorney, Downtown Hope Center deferred comments to the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the country.


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a an award-winning trans reporter and former associate editor of Chicago's Windy City Times.

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