AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled Monday that the Orono School Department discriminated against a transgender child by denying her access to the girls bathroom.
While the school department’s lawyer warned that schools around the state may not be ready to manage the practical fallout from the decision, civil liberties advocates hailed the ruling as an advancement of human rights.
“This ruling is a huge step forward for a vulnerable population that is entitled to the full protection of the law,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “There will always be voices who claim we’re not ready, we’re not there yet, the time to end discrimination is next year, or next session. But victims of discrimination should not have to wait.”
The attorney for the child and her parents said his clients are very happy with the outcome of their complaint.
“At the very heart of it is the issue of basic human dignity and fundamental civil liberties,” said Eric Mehnert. “It was a good decision.”
But Melissa Hewey, attorney for the Orono School Department, said the ruling was “a huge leap.”
“I’m not sure that it takes into account practicalities that face educators around the state,” she said. “You can understand [the ruling] intellectually. You can agree with it intellectually. But practice is sometimes different — and I think that’s what may have escaped some people in this case.”
The discrimination in question first occurred in October 2007 when the child was in the fifth grade at Asa Adams School. Until then, she was allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, although she was biologically male. But that fall, the transgender child was followed into the girls room by a male student who had “previously started to harass her by stalking her and calling her ‘faggot,’” according to the Maine Human Rights Commission investigator’s report.
After the second such episode, the boy was suspended and removed from the transgender child’s class. At that point, school officials told the transgender child that she had to use a single-stall faculty bathroom at the other end of the school, and that was when her parents decided to take the matter to the Maine Human Rights Commission.
You can't make a "he" a "she" by changing his clothes and calling him "her" any more than I can put on a jumpsuit and say I'm Elvis Presley and start living at Graceland.