“Our daughter just wanted to go to school, be with her girlfriends, get a good education and be accepted by her peers.” Wayne Maines wrote this in a Huffington Post op-ed in 2012 after Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled that the Orono school system did not violate the Maine Human Rights Act when it prohibited Nicole from using the restroom that matches her gender identity. “She was made an outcast, separated from her peers. She was bullied and harassed simply because she is transgender. No parents want that for their child.”
After five years of struggle, pain, hard work and hope, the family continued on and appealed Anderson’s ruling to the Maine Supreme Court. Last week, the high court ruled in favor of Nicole and found that the school district had violated the state anti-discrimination laws.
The Bangor Daily News reports that “in a 5-1 decision, the justices Thursday said that Superior Court Justice William Anderson erred when he ruled in favor of what is now Riverside RSU 26.” In a strongly worded opinion, Justice Warren Silver wrote, “where, as here, 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, denying access to the appropriate bathroom constitutes sexual orientation discrimination in violation of the MHRC.” (Maine’s Human Rights Act currently only includes the words sexual orientation.)
Nicole was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono in 2007. One day, a male classmate at her school, at the direction of his grandfather, followed Nicole into the girls bathroom twice arguing that he was also entitled to use it. This caused the school administration to reverse its course and resulted in the lawsuit.
“This is a momentous decision that marks a huge breakthrough for transgender young people,” said Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, who argued the case before the justices last year. “Schools have a responsibility to create a learning environment that meets and balances the needs of all kids and allows every student to succeed. For transgender students, this includes access to all school facilities, programs and extracurricular activities in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.”
As More Light Presbyterians partners with other people of faith to oppose efforts by far-right groups in California to reverse recently won rights for transgender students, we celebrate this groundbreaking ruling by Maine’s Supreme Court. California’s Assembly Bill 1266 went into effect on January 1, 2014 and allows transgender youth to use whatever bathroom and participate on whichever sports team they believe matches their gender identity. Far-right groups in the state are working to put a referendum on the ballot to reverse the law.
Signatures for the referendum are being counted this month ahead of the February 24th deadline. If the referendum moves forward, it will be the first time that voters are determining the ability of transgender school children to access basic needs, such as a restroom.
Like California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington and Colorado all have policies protecting transgender students’ rights, but in many states there is a growing backlash, one which demonizes children in the name of far right values.
“Today’s ruling shows that courts and legislatures across the country are recognizing that all students should have the chance to participate and succeed in school,” wrote Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “It’s a pretty simple concept: this student lived every day as a girl, and the court held that the school needed to treat her like all other girls. The court recognized that transgender students can truly thrive when they are supported not only by their families but their schools and communities as well.”
After the decision, Nicole Maines, now a trans activist, tweeted the following:
“I wouldn’t wish my experience on another trans person,” Nicole told reporters after making oral arguments in the case in June. “I am happy the court was able to hear my case today. I hope they understand how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education, have fun, make friends and not have to worry about being bullied by students or the administration and to be accepted for who they are. That’s the most important thing.”
At More Light Presbyterians, this is also our hope for all transgender youth whether they are attending school or in our congregations, that they are able to enjoy their childhoods and youth in the gender that they are called to be.
Read JOHN DOE et al.v. REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 26 at the Maine Supreme Court