Archived: Transgender Teen Gets Historic Court Victory

By Chris Hoenig

Transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, according to Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the family of Nicole Maines, who was required by her school to use a staff restroom instead of the girls’ student bathroom starting in fifth grade. In a 5-1 ruling, the justices said that the school violated Maines’ rights under the state’s Human Rights Act and reversed a lower court’s decision from 2012, which ruled in favor of the school.

“Our opinion must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice,” Justice Warren Silver wrote. “Decisions about how to address students’ legitimate gender-identity issues are not to be taken lightly. 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.”

“It sends a message to transgender students that their lives are valuable, that their education needs are important, and that schools have to provide them with equal educational opportunities,” said Jennifer Levi, Director of the Transgender Rights Project at Boston’s GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders), which represented Maines. “No court in the country before has ever allowed a transgender person access to the bathroom based on the existence of a nondiscrimination law.”

Maines, now 16 and attending a private school, began identifying as a female when she was 2 years old. She had the support of her public school and used the girls bathroom until fifth grade, when a male student began following her into the girls bathroom, arguing that he had the same right to be there as she did. School officials made Maines use a faculty bathroom from then on.

“A tremendous amount of weight is coming off my shoulders,” Wayne Maines, Nicole’s father, told The Huffington Post. “It’s still sinking in.

When he received the call confirming the court ruling, “I just broke down right then and there,” he said. He called his wife, who texted their daughter. Nicole then shared the news with classmates during a school assembly. “The whole school got up and cheered,” Wayne Maines recounted.

Nicole Maines sent out her reaction on Twitter:

“Our daughter just wanted to go to school, be with her girlfriends, get a good education and be accepted by her peers. In other words, Nicole wanted the same things that most other girls her age want,” Wayne Maines wrote in a blog post for The Huffington Post following the 2012 ruling. “The school acknowledged that it was critical to Nicole’s development that she be treated like the girl she has always known herself to be. Instead, she was made an outcast, separated from her peers. She was bullied and harassed simply because she is transgender.”

Even the attorney representing the school district praised the court’s ruling. “In its decision issued today, the Maine Supreme Court confirmed what has been the Orono School Department’s contention all along—that its personnel acted with ‘tremendous sensitivity and insight’ and undertook a ‘rational and compassionate approach’ while ‘working in uncharted territory,'” Melissa Hewey said Thursday. “And this, from our perspective, is the most important part of the decision.

“The court has also provided helpful guidance about how to handle this issue that is becoming more and more common in schools around the state and the country,” she continued. “Now that its obligations have been clarified, the Orono School Department will take all necessary steps to ensure that it complies with the law.”

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