Are Women’s Spaces Transgender Spaces? Single-Sex Domestic Violence Shelters, Transgender Inclusion, and the Equal Protection Clause,
106 Calif. L. Rev. 1689
Transgender survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) face unique struggles in finding safe and inclusive housing as they seek reprieve from violence. Domestic violence shelters are often marked “women-only” with the goal of creating spaces for female empowerment, wherein women learn feminist principles of liberation and find a “sisterhood” of support by forging healthy female relationships. However, as a result, shelters frequently deny transgender women access because staff perceive them to be a threat to survivor comfort and to be disruptive to shelters’ female-empowerment model. Consequently, though transgender women face similar gender-based oppression and a relatively higher risk of violence as compared to cisgender women, shelters commonly deny transgender women equal protection. This Note conceptualizes how a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection challenge by transgender litigants to women-only shelters might proceed in federal courts. By situating transgender identity within the Supreme Court’s broader equal protection jurisprudence, it outlines three ways that the Court could analyze a transgender equal protection challenge: as an issue of first impression, as a sex-based discrimination claim, or as a sexual orientation claim.