Homeless mother fights to breastfeed in public

Homeless mother fights to breastfeed in public
Published: Jun. 30, 2014 at 4:03 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 30, 2014 at 6:31 PM HST
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Karen Penley says the Oahu shelter she is staying at told her to cover up while breastfeeding...
Karen Penley says the Oahu shelter she is staying at told her to cover up while breastfeeding or get out.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A homeless mother is fighting for her right to breastfeed in public.

The woman says the Oahu shelter she is staying at told her to cover up or get out.

"I feel almost kind of discriminated against. Maybe even controlled," said Karen Penley.

Penley says she was recently told by a worker at Institute for Human Services that she could not breastfeed her baby without a cover in public.

"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.

Executive Director at IHS Connie Mitchell denies any worker threatening to kick Penley out.

"We asked her to be sensitive to other guests.  But she's also free to find another place if she wants to.  But we're not kicking her out.  If she leaves it's going to be her own choice," Mitchell said.

Hawaii's law is clear:

It is a discriminatory practice to deny, or attempt to deny, the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodations to a woman because she is breast feeding a child.

Mitchell says Penley was offered a place to go but she refused.

"We have offered her three different places that are air conditioned and I would think that that would be a much more comfortable place for her to be breast feeding," said Mitchell.

"The air condition is actually broke. It's super small. I'm claustrophobic so I don't like being in small areas. But it's really really small. I usually keep the lights out to try to keep it cooler than it is. But most the time, we're sweating in there because the air is broke," said Penley.

Penley says she doesn't want to use a cover because it gets too hot.

But she says she is torn between feeding her child the way she wants and giving up her rights because that could mean living on the streets.

"I want all breast feeding moms to know they're not doing anything wrong.  We shouldn't have to cover because we're not being perverts. We're feeding our children and our children deserve it," Penley said.

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