ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The transgender woman at the center of a religious freedom lawsuit between the Municipality of Anchorage and the Downtown Soup Kitchen is speaking out after a year of silence.
Samantha Coyle, who in an interview with KTUU admitted to not always being a model citizen, says the Downtown Soup Kitchen isn't telling the whole truth about her experiences with the shelter.
"I've known since I was six years old who I was," Coyle said. "I'm female, trapped in a male body."
And trying to fit in to that role took Coyle down a painful, perilous path eventually leading to homelessness.
"It almost put me in my grave to be somebody else I am not," Coyle said.
Eventually, that path led Coyle to the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center. Her first attempt to seek shelter didn't go well.
"The gentleman came in. It was after hours for admitting anyone. He was inebriated. He was injured," said David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, who sued the city on behalf of the shelter. "He had just come from a fight where he was kicked out of another shelter."
The shelter sent Coyle to the hospital that night, and turned her away again the next day for showing up outside of intake hours.
After that, Coyle says she spent a month at the AWAIC shelter, until that shelter referred her back to the Downtown Hope Center.
"They let two women in, the other two women in, then stopped me and said 'No, you can't come in, you're not female. You're male,'" Coyle said of the Hope Center's response. "No, I'm female. What you are doing is wrong."
After that, Coyle says she went away and tried again another day.
"Well, I guess I'll go sleep in the woods. Here I am. I have nowhere to go. It's cold. I'm hurting. I have medical issues," Coyle said. "They denied me a second time. Discriminated against me and stopped me at the gate."
It's the very situation Hope Center says it's trying to protect the women it serves from experiencing.
"Some of the women have said to the shelter, if you allow biological men to sleep right next to us at night, to disrobe and change right next to us at night, we'll brave the cold," Cortman said.
The Hope Center has said it would rather close than deviate from its religious views and its mission to serve vulnerable women.
"This is for the women they are protecting," Cortman said.
"There are there are other shelters where this gentleman can go. And this one happens to be a women's only shelter and that I think is a great balance."
But Coyle, whose sex is female on her government identification, wonders who's protecting her?
"This is not society as I know it. And these are people who project a Christian based facility. Why would they do that?" Coyle said. "Jesus Christ would not have denied me entrance or anybody like me based on my outer appearance. We must treat people with love and respect and dignity whomever they are, because it's on the inside, and that's all I have to say."