Proposed legislation, LD 1238, a law to protect same-sex shelters, would give privately owned establishments providing emergency shelter to women the discretion to provide gender-based accommodation without risking sanctions for discrimination based on gender identity.
There are real and serious conflicts that arise when women’s shelters attempt to balance expectations of inclusivity with women’s need to feel safe and secure from the threat of male violence. One of us has seen this conflict firsthand through her work at a Maine women’s shelter and was concerned that women’s concerns have been repeatedly minimized or ignored.
Of course, every homeless person deserves protection. That is out of the question. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the inevitable reality that different individuals have different needs. In order to achieve justice in conflict, both sides must be considered equally.
Women’s shelters exist because women need refuge from men in a male-dominated society where male violence against women is endemic. Male violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women. A high percentage of the women who were not housed were sexually abused in childhood. A similar number have survived rapes.
Because of the violence that men practice against women, same-sex housing is a necessity so that emergency shelters can provide trauma-informed support in an environment that feels truly safe. Eliminating such spaces and losing sight of women’s experiences of oppression when making political decisions that affect women is neither progress nor justice.
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