Today Maine’s highest court heard a case that may determine the legal status of transgender students across the state.
Nicole Maines is a 15-year-old biological male who identifies as a female. Four years ago, Maines’ school required her to use the staff bathroom after the school received a complaint about Maines using the girls’ bathroom. The school had been letting Maines use the girls’ bathroom until they received a complaint from the grandfather of a boy in her class.
Maines felt discriminated against and sued. “She said it was like being picked out of a crowd of students and being told, 'They're the normal students, and you're not,'" said Jennifer Levi, director of Transgender Rights Project for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Levi is arguing the case for the family.
The Maine Human Rights Act bars any discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. The lower district, however, ruled that the school held the legal prerogative to use its discretion in the matter.
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The case comes as the legal status of transgender adults is in flux. The latest edition of the Psychiatric Manual no longer classifies being transgender as a disorder but as ‘gender dysphoria’ with the emphasis on stress induced from gender identity. Cases of discrimination against transgender adults have met various rulings on a state by state basis. The status of transgender minors meets even more confusion and indecision.
Maines is clearly discriminated against. At issue, however, is whether this discrimination is justified. On the one hand, separate is not always equal. Forced to use the staff bathroom, Maines incurs unnecessary attention and justifies her suit as a stand against bullying.
However, on the other hand, if one is to take the Maine Human Rights Act to its fullest, logical extent, bathrooms segregated by gender are all forms of discrimination, regardless of biology. Moreover, the school must take into consideration the privacy and comfort of other students and weigh it against Maines’ right to use the girls’ bathroom.