Protestors march against a bill restricting transgender girls from sports teams in Pierre, South Dakota on Thursday, March 11. Credit: Toby Brusseau / AP Images for Human Rights Campaign

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Quinn Gormley is the executive director of the Maine Transgender Network.

You’ve probably heard about the transgender sports bills in Maine and other states. They’re the latest wedge designed to divide the electorate while distracting us from real issues. And it’s working. Advocacy groups, media and families alike have been drawn into the cruel and unnecessary debate around whether or not a middle schooler can play soccer with her friends.

The sports bills are horrible, and the harm even the debate on these bills does will have lasting effects. But the soccer field isn’t the only battleground of transphobia this legislative session.

LD 1238, proposed by state Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield, would exempt privately owned facilities, which includes the majority of shelters in Maine, that provide emergency shelter or temporary housing for women who are in reasonable fear for their safety from the Maine Human Rights Act. The purpose of the act is to prevent discrimination, which includes gender identity as a protected class. LD 1238 would permit these facilities to deny services to transgender women and girls who need them.

In short, it would allow gender-segregated homeless and domestic violence shelters to discriminate against transgender people.

As with the anti-trans sports bills, anti-trans bathroom bills and over 60 years of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks before them, there is no evidence to suggest that including trans women and girls in women-only spaces in any way poses a threat to cisgender women. But evidence isn’t important in these debates. Fear is.

This bill plays to every negative stereotype about trans women there is: implying predation where none exists and perpetuating the lie that trans women are men.

Trans women are women.

This bill will harm women who need help.

Transgender people experience staggering rates of violence in their homes and relationships: 54 percent of transgender people report being survivors of intimate partner violence—more than double the rate of cisgender women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly a quarter of trans people have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner. Transgender people seeking support around experiences of sexual and domestic violence can find resources at www.mainetrans.net/survivors.

Like all women, trans women have a vested interest in ensuring safe access to homeless and domestic violence shelters — because we often need them. Data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 36 percent of transgender Mainers have been homeless at some point in their lives, with 13 percent experiencing it in the year prior to taking the survey.

Yet despite this clear need for support, transgender people face a myriad of barriers in accessing it. Seventy percent of trans people who stayed in a shelter in the last year report some form of mistreatment, ranging from verbal harassment and discrimination to physical and sexual assault.

There are plenty of real issues with homeless and domestic violence shelters deserving our legislators’ attention right now. Shelters need to be safer and more accessible. They need the resources to serve more people.

LD 1238 does nothing to address any of these needs. This bill is unnecessary, discriminatory, and harmful to women who need fewer problems and more support. Trans women deserve safety too.