Monday, March 3, 2014
Maine Court Supports Transgendered Student under its Human Rights Act
In a case of first impression under the state’s Human Rights Act, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rendered an opinion in favor of a transgendered girl who had been denied permission to use the girls’ bathroom at her elementary and middle schools. Brought by the girl’s parents on behalf of their daughter, the case is known as John Doe etal v. Regional School District 26. The case was the first in which the justices considered several issues involving human rights and education. In fact it was the first case to be decided under the portions of the MHRA that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations, educational opportunities, employment, housing, and other areas. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is strictly prohibited under MHRA.
The elementary school initially supported of Susan, the transgendered student, and had developed a plan that would encourage Susan’s then fourth grade classmates in accepting her transition. The students had been encouraged to call Susan by her female name and agreed that Susan should use girls’ bathroom. The school’s support changed when in Susan’s fifth grade year a young boy twice followed her into the girls’ bathroom claiming that he had a right to use the facility because Susan could. The boy had been instructed to enter the girl’s bathroom by his grandfather who was also his guardian. The grandfather was opposed to the school’s decision to support Susan’s use of the girls’ bathroom. After the second incident the school instructed Susan to use a single stall staff bathroom.
As the court noted, the school developed a plan to support Susan in her gender identity not based just on Susan’s preference but after reviewing professional and determining that Susan’s parents supported her. It appears that the school withdrew support in order to end controversy, thereby missing an opportunity to inform the male student why his demand could not be supported. The school could have provided relief to the student in discussing the situation without judgment. The male student might have been relieved and might have found school a safe place to sort out what his beliefs and behavioral preferences are. In the end all of the children suffered. Susan and her family moved to a different part of Maine after her middle school also denied her access to the girls’ bathroom. Susan’s classmates, who had accepted the transition and supported Susan, observed the school administration deviate from its rational and supportive behavior after what could be perceived as bullying. And one cannot help but feel sad for the young man who was instructed by his grandfather to engage in an activity that resulted in controversy. I hope there is at least one adult in his life who is giving him the space to be himself, which is what Susan was looking for.