A Victory For Transgender Students

In a significant civil rights victory, Maine’s High Court ruled Thursday that schools must allow transgender children to use bathrooms of their choice. The ruling came as a result of a case brought by the family of Nicole Maines, a transgender girl who was banned from using the girl’s restroom at Orano elementary school in 2011. Maines and her family subsequently sued the school, arguing that the administration had violated the state’s Human Rights Act. The judge agreed, and in the process, set a historical precedent for current and future transgender students in the state.

The school initially did allow Nicole — who filed the case under the name “Susan Doe” but subsequently felt comfortable identifying herself publicly — to use the girl’s bathroom, which worked fine until a male student followed her into the girl’s restroom, claiming that he, too, should be allowed to use the bathroom of this choice. (He was apparently prompted to do this by his grandfather, who vehemently disagreed with the school’s original decision.) Perversely, the school responded by punishing Nicole, forcing her to use a single-stall, unisex staff bathroom in isolation from her peers.

But in 2005, Maine adopted an amendment to its Human Rights Act (MHRA) that bans discrimination based on sexual and gender orientation, and the court ruled today that the school violated this statute in denying Nicole access to the girl’s bathroom.

“[The school]’s later decision to ban Susan from the girls’ bathroom, based not on a determination that there had been some change in Susan’s status but on others’ complaints about the school’s well-considered decision, constituted discrimination based on Susan’s sexual orientation,” Judge Warren Silver wrote in the majority opinion. She was treated differently from other students solely because of her status as a transgender girl. This type of discrimination is forbidden by the MHRA.”

GLAD, which represented Nicole in the case, hailed the decision as “breakthrough ruling,” as it’s the first time a state has ruled in favor of transgender children’s rights to use the bathrooms that match their gender identities.

Photo credit: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance