Court: Transgender Student’s Rights Were Violated
A transgender fifth-grader should have been allowed to use the bathroom of her choice, Maine’s highest court ruled Thursday, concluding that school officials violated state anti-discrimination law.
Nicole Maines’ family and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued in 2009 after school officials required her to use a staff bathroom instead of the girls’ restroom. A state Superior Court judge ruled that the Orono school district acted within its discretion, and a lawyer for the district said that it should be up to the Maine Legislature to clarify the issue.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, however, concluded that the school district’s actions violated the Maine Human Rights Act, a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"This is a momentous decision that marks a huge breakthrough for transgender young people," said Jennifer Levi, director of Transgender Rights Project for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who argued the case on the family’s behalf.
Students at the southern Maine high school Nicole now attends stood up and cheered when news of the ruling was announced, said her father, Wayne Maines.
School administrators across the country are grappling with the issue.
Colorado officials said last year that a suburban Colorado Springs school district discriminated against a 6-year-old transgender girl by preventing her from using the girls’ bathroom.
In California, there’s an effort afoot to try to repeal a law that allows public school students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their expressed genders.
In the Maine case, Nicole Maines was using the girls’ bathroom in her elementary school until the grandfather of a fifth-grade boy complained to administrators. The Orono school district determined that she should use a staff bathroom, but her parents said that amounted to discrimination.
Nicole is a biological male who identified as a girl beginning at age 2.
Now a teenager, Nicole said after arguments before the high court last summer that she hoped the justices understood the importance of going to school, getting an education and making friends without having to be "bullied" by other students - or school administrators.
Her father said he was overcome with emotion when he learned of the decision. He said he was grateful that the court agreed that his daughter shouldn’t have been singled out and added, "Now it’s time to do some healing."
"As parents all we’ve ever wanted is for Nicole and her brother, Jonas, to get a good education and to be treated just like their classmates, and that didn’t happen for Nicole," Wayne Maines added in a statement. "What happened to my daughter was extremely painful for her and our whole family, but we can now close this very difficult chapter in our lives."
Melissa Hewey, lawyer for the school district, said the ruling provided clarity not just to Orono, but to schools around the state.
"The court has now clarified what has been a difficult issue and is a more and more common in schools, and the Orono School Department is going to do what it needs to do to comply with the law," she said.
In the 5-1 ruling, the court had to reconcile two separate state laws, one requiring separate bathrooms based on gender and the other prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In this case, where the child had a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria, "it has been clearly established that a student’s psychological well-being and educational success depend upon being permitted to use the communal bathroom consistent with her gender identity," Justice Warren Silver wrote.
The Supreme Judicial Court pointed out that its ruling was based on the circumstances of the case in which there was ample documentation of the student’s gender identity. "Our opinion must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice," he wrote.