A homeless mother in Hawaii was told by a shelter that she would be kicked out if she doesn’t cover up while breastfeeding her infant child.
Karen Penley, a young mother living in a homeless shelter in Oahu, claims that after recently breastfeeding her 9-month-old son, a worker approached her and told her to cover up while nursing or she wouldn’t be welcome to stay any longer.
Penley told Hawaii News Now about the incident. “He’s like, ‘You must cover to nurse your baby.’ And I was like, ‘I have the right not to cover.’ And he goes, ‘I have the right to refuse services.’ In other words…kick me out, make me leave,” Penley said.
Like most states, Hawaii prohibits discrimination against mothers who are nursing their children in public.
Connie Mitchell, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Services (IHS), the government agency that runs the shelter, denies Penley’s claim. “We asked her to be sensitive to the other guests…but we’re not kicking her out,” Mitchell said. “If she leaves, it’s going to be her own choice.” Mitchell said Penley was offered a private room and she refused, but according to Penley, the air conditioning in the room is broken and covering up while breastfeeding gets too hot.
IHS runs the only 24-hour emergency homeless shelter in Oahu.
Penley is just the latest example in a long line of women who have faced discrimination for feeding their young children in public. Last month, a photo of a woman graduating from Cal State-Long Beach went viral, generating controversy simply because she was breastfeeding her child during the ceremony. College students in Texas have also been fighting for the right to breastfeed in public, asking through a social media campaign why mothers should be forced to feed their children in the bathroom.
“I want all breast feeding moms to know they’re not doing anything wrong,” Penley told Hawaii News Now. “We shouldn’t have to cover because we’re not being perverts. We’re feeding our children and our children deserve it.”