Many people would consider it common sense not to house biologically male inmates in women’s prisons or to say that women who have been raped or battered should be offered a crisis shelter where they can heal without the possibility of a male-bodied stranger sleeping next to them.

But some activists say women and girls shouldn’t have any space set apart by biological sex. Two current Maine bills take opposing views on this.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee this week voted to recommend passage of LD 1044, which grants inmates in Maine prisons the right to be housed according to the sex they self-declare, rather than their biology.

The bill makes no provision to exempt sex offenders or other violent convicts nor does it require sex reassignment surgery first. A sexually intact, convicted male rapist would thus be entitled to declare that he now identifies as female and be placed in the women’s prison.

No witness at the public hearing or legislator at the following work session mentioned female inmates or the risk to them. No one brought up the multiple states which have allowed prisoners to self-ID and are now dealing with reports of women inmates being sexually assaulted by trans women like Janiah Monroe. According to the Illinois Times and WTTW, Monroe was moved to a women’s prison in Illinois even after strangling to death a cellmate in a men’s prison. Monroe’s new cellmate alleges Monroe raped her the first night.

Of course, trans inmates deserve to be safe, too. But women in prison are not human shields, their safety to be risked for the protection of others.

The second bill, LD 1238, would allow some privately owned emergency shelters which serve women who are in fear for their safety, including rape crisis and domestic violence shelters, to house only biological females. It’s important to note that it would not bar trans women from shelters: Any facility wanting to include them (which appears to be most) could do so.

I needed a crisis shelter after I was sexually assaulted. If the other residents there hadn’t all been physically female, I wouldn’t have felt able to face seeking help. I desperately needed a single-sex space then, as do other women now.

No one is suggesting all trans women, or even most, are dangerous. But if we must admit anyone who says they feel female to women’s spaces, we must admit everyone.

Canadian law doesn’t protect single-sex shelters. So when Christopher Hambrook falsely claimed to be a gender-nonconforming trans woman, he was allowed into two women’s homeless shelters despite his male appearance. In one shelter, according to the Toronto Sun, Hambrook raped a deaf woman. In the other, he raped a woman who had fled domestic violence.

Women are too often told our boundaries are unimportant and we must make others comfortable at our own expense. Even some women’s rights groups now speak exclusively of transgender safety, as if violence against women is no longer of consequence.

Some women don’t mind sharing intimate spaces based on gender identity rather than sex, but they have no right to make that choice for everyone else. Do you know for certain that your mother, grandmother or daughter would be fine with it?

Women fought to create our own spaces. Now we’re told defending them is hate. It isn’t. We can (and I do) support trans people’s human rights like equal employment, education, housing and health care, while also believing that women and girls have a right to some spaces separated by biological sex.

Tell your legislators to allow women and girls single-sex spaces like prisons and some crisis shelters. It’s just common sense.

Jennifer Gingrich lives in Portland. 

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