Friday, January 31, 2014
Maine Supreme Court Issues Monumental Decision in Favor of Transgendered Student's Right to Use Bathroom of Choice
A student in Maine has secured a huge victory for transgendered students. Susan Doe, a transgendered student, who is biologically male, but identifies as female, had been denied access to the girl's bathroom at her middle school. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has held that she has a right to use the girl's restroom. The decision is based on Maine's Human Rights Act, which provides:
It is unlawful public accommodations discrimination, in violation of this Act . . . [f]or any public accommodation or any person who is the . . . superintendent, agent, or employee of any place of public accommodation to directly or indirectly refuse, discriminate against or in any manner withhold from or deny the full and equal enjoyment to any person, on account of . . . sexual orientation . . . any of the accommodations . . . [or] facilities . . . of public accommodation . . . .
The court, however, was careful to write a decision that was tailored to Susan's specific facts, which included a clearly documented gender identity and a past acceptance by the school of that identity. The Court wrote:
we emphasize that in this case the school had a program carefully developed over several years and supported by an educational plan designed to sensitively address Susan’s gender identity issues. The determination that discrimination is demonstrated in this case rests heavily on Susan’s gender identity and gender dysphoria diagnosis, both of which were acknowledged and accepted by the school. The school, her parents, her counselors, and her friends all accepted that Susan is a girl.
Thus, we do not suggest that any person could demand access to any school facility or program based solely on a self-declaration of gender identity or confusion without the plans developed in cooperation with the school and the accepted and respected diagnosis that are present in this case. Our opinion must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice. 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 MHRA.
While carefully crafted, this language seems more directed toward warding off open access to bathrooms for anyone who wants it, rather than limiting the rights of other transgendered students facing problems like Susan's.
Many other districts across the nation have similarly been struggling with how to accomodate transgendered students. This decision should provide a helpful example.