Maine court decision on school restroom is a win for transgender rights

| March 8, 2017

Maine Supreme Court’s decision guaranteeing a transgender student the right to use the school bathroom of the gender she identifies with has elicited a positive response from the LGBT community and supporters. In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the Court also stated that it was unlawful for school administrators to force the student to use the staff bathroom.

The issue arose in 2007 when Nicole Maines (now 16), who has identified as a girl since age 2, was restricted from using the girls’ bathroom and was instead asked to use the staff bathroom after a male student’s grandfather complained. Nicole’s family then filed a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

A gender neutral restroom

A gender neutral restroom. From morag.riddell.

The decision has drawn attention to the effect of anti-discrimination laws on educational requirements.

Content with the court’s ruling, the teenager expressed that she would not want another person to go through the same experience. Nicole believes that it’s crucial that a student does not have to struggle to be accepted for who they are and worry about bullying by their peers.

Difficulties faced by transgender students

A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)) on the school experience of 295 transgender students studying in middle and high school narrates the difficulties they face. The 2009 survey revealed that 50 percent of transgender students said their schools had an anti-harassment policy in place, but only 25 percent agreed that the policy comprised specific protections based on gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression.

Similarly, a school climate survey conducted by GLSEN in 2011 reveals that 80 percent of transgender students accepted feeling unsafe at school, while 75 percent said that they were verbally harassed because of their gender identity. An additional 32 percent admitted to being harassed physically.

The fight for transgender rights 

The School Success and Opportunity Act, which seeks to define the rights of transgender students in schools through grade 12, is at a crossroads in California. While supporters of the law assert that the existing anti-discrimination policies are inadequate in safeguarding the rights of transgender students,opponents believe that allowing transgender students to participate in programs based on the gender with which they identify infringes on the privacy of other students.

The opponents are intent on revoking the law, and a group called Privacy for All Students gathered 619,244 signatures in November for a referendum. However only 482,582 signatures were deemed valid.

In Utah, a lawmaker is proposing a bill that would prohibit transgender students from using the restroom of their gender identity. Republican Rep. Michael Kennedy proposes that additional restrooms be installed for transgender students to prevent transgender children and other students from feeling uncomfortable using the same facilities. Opponents of this bill say that it violates the civil liberties of transgender students, and if passed, the bill would downgrade them to secondary status.

In this struggle, the recent decision by the court in Maine will be looked to for guidance on dealing with an issue that has become increasingly common in schools across the country. Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders of Boston) Transgender Rights Project, who represented Nicole in the case, deems this a historic decision and a remarkable step towards the inclusion of transgender students.

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Category: Restrooms

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