The proposed legislation L.D. 1238, An Act to Protect Women’s Single-sex Shelters, would grant privately owned facilities offering emergency shelter to women the discretion to provide sex-specific accommodations without risking sanction for discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

There are real and serious conflicts that emerge when women’s shelters endeavor to balance the expectation of inclusivity with women’s need to feel safe and protected against the threat of male violence. One of us, through her work at a women’s shelter in Maine, has observed these conflicts firsthand, and has been troubled to see women’s concerns repeatedly minimized or disregarded.

Of course every individual experiencing homelessness deserves shelter. That is not in question. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the unavoidable reality that different individuals have different needs. To achieve equity when needs clash, both sides must be granted equal consideration.

Women’s shelters exist because women require refuge from men in a male-dominated society in which male violence against women is endemic. Men’s violence is a leading cause of women’s homelessness. A high percentage of unhoused women were sexually abused in girlhood; a similarly high number have survived rape.

Because of the violence men perpetrate against women, in order for shelters to provide trauma-informed support in an environment that feels truly safe, single-sex accommodations are a necessity. To eliminate such spaces, and to lose sight of women’s experiences of oppression when making policy decisions that impact women, is neither progress nor justice.

Aurora Cobb

Robert Jensen
Austin, Texas

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