So-called ‘Equality Act’ could harm women, threaten Anchorage shelter

Most days, Washington, D.C., feels worlds away, detached from daily life in Anchorage. But, on Feb. 25, the House of Representatives passed a bill called the “Equality Act.” If it becomes law, it threatens to crush our work serving the vulnerable in our city.

I serve as executive director of the Downtown Hope Center. It’s no secret that Anchorage struggles with high rates of human trafficking — a tragedy that often goes hand-in-hand with homelessness, drug abuse and other traumas. My team meets as many of these needs as we can. For years, Downtown Hope Center has fed more than 400 homeless and hungry individuals a day and welcomed thousands of struggling people through our doors. We’re motivated by the love of Jesus. We believe everyone — no matter how broken they feel — has dignity and value.

It’s never boring here. We offer men and women hot showers, laundry service and job training. We even run a small bakery and culinary school that offers the stepping stones from homelessness and addiction to reliable work and community investment.

My favorite moments here are in the early evening. Women line up for dinner and receive a warm, safe bed for the night. We started the overnight women’s shelter a few years back because we noticed a desperate need. I’d watched how, in other shelters open to both sexes, desperate women were sometimes unable to avoid their pimps and predators — physically dragged out of safety, back to the streets.

Here, at night, we can give women temporary reprieve. Because of this sisterhood and sense of safety, some women have experienced friendship, laughter and hope for the first time in decades. Absent COVID-19, we offered about 70 beds, with about 3 feet between each mattress. It may not seem like much, but for some, it’s a lifeline.

Sadly, laws like the “Equality Act” threaten to fine us or shut us down for offering shelter only to women. I know because Anchorage already tried something similar.

In January 2018, a homeless man who identified as a woman demanded entry into our overnight shelter. We’d served this person meals before. We have since. That night, this individual was clearly drunk, dressed in a pink nightgown and suffering from a bleeding gash across the face. We require overnight guests to be sober; the wound also needed medical attention. I convinced this individual to go to the hospital, and I paid for the cab ride there.


Days later, a complaint was filed with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission who then demanded that we accommodate their agenda by allowing men who identify as female into the shelter to sleep mere feet from the women, many of whom have survived trafficking, domestic violence or other abuse. Alliance Defending Freedom represented us in court; ultimately, the commission’s efforts failed.

Through that court victory, we’ve maintained the freedom to serve women in ways that align with our faith — including a belief that “woman” is a biological reality. Practically, we’re just offering women what they need — a safe place away from the presence of biological men. Some of our overnight guests have just been raped; forcing them to sleep near any male retraumatizes them.

The “Equality Act” demands that we shrug off common sense and compassion, forcing privately funded, religious organizations like us to ignore what we know is best and abandon the women we serve. That’s not equality.

Washington, D.C., doesn’t know or love Anchorage and its people like we do. On behalf of Downtown Hope Center — and the women we serve — I respectfully ask our senators to prevent this controversial and coercive bill from becoming law.

Sherrie Laurie is the executive director of the Downtown Hope Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

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