The supreme court of Maine has issued an opinion declaring that transgender children in the state’s public schools must be allowed to choose their own bathrooms despite their genitalia or how uncomfortable other students may feel about it.
The 5-1 decision, which came down on Thursday, marks the first time any state’s high court has ruled that transgender kids can use the bathroom with which they identify rather than the one matching their biological trappings, reports the Bangor Daily News.
The case, which originated in 2009 and stagnated for years in Maine’s courts, involved a fifth-grade student who wanted to use the girls’ bathroom. School officials said no because the student was not, in fact, a girl.
The child’s parents and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued the school district. The way the school treated the student and bullying by other students were also at issue.
“This sends a message to my children that you can believe in the system,” said Wayne Maines, the father of the victorious student, according to the Daily News.
The now-teenage student, Nicole Maines, also spoke to the press.
“I wouldn’t wish my experience on another trans person,” the transgender student said.
Jennifer Levi, director of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) transgender rights project, was pleased with the outcome.
“A transgender girl is a girl and must be treated as such in all respects, including using the girls’ restroom,” Levi stridently insisted.
The decision appears to be a pretty limited interpretation of an anti-discrimination law already on Maine’s books.
“Our opinion must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice,” it reads. “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.”
The lone dissenting justice, Andrew Mead, observed that Maine has a law mandating that public schools have separate bathrooms for males and females. To the extent that law conflicts with anti-discrimination law, Mead suggested, the court should defer to the legislature to deal with it because the legislature is democratically chosen whereas the court is not.
Members of Maine’s supreme court are appointed by the state’s governor and confirmed by the state senate.
A lower-level court had found in favor of in favor of the Orono School District. (RELATED: Judge rules against parents of transgender 5th-grader)
Transgender bathroom fracases have been popping up all over the country in the last year or so, with definitively mixed results. Much of the bickering has ended up in court, and the cases are slowly winding their way through various state court systems and legislative mechanisms.
In November, officials at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington scoffed at legal threats and stood firmly by their decision to let a 45-year-old student with a penis use the women’s locker room, and walk naked in front of girls as young as six. (RELATED: College OKs transgender man’s full monty to underage girls in womens’ locker room)
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint on behalf of Alex Wilson, a transgender student in Florida who says he is a discrimination victim because the trade school he attends has prohibited him from using the women’s restroom because he isn’t biologically a woman. (RELATED: ACLU insists that transgender man be allowed to use women’s bathroom)
In August, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a controversial law stipulating that all public school students must have access to facilities, sports teams, and programs that are “consistent with his or her gender identity,” rather than actual biological composition. (RELATED: Calif. governor signs transgendered students’ rights bill)
That law has since been blocked temporarily by a signature drive spearheaded by California conservatives. If the signature drive is ultimately successful, the issue will appear on a November 2014 ballot. (RELATED: DEMOCRACY NOW! California’s choose-your-own locker room law faces ballot drive)
In June, the Colorado Civil Rights Division decided in favor of transgender first-grader Coy Mathis, who had been prohibited from using the girls’ bathroom at a public elementary school. (RELATED: Transgender first-grader wins civil rights suit after girls’ bathroom ban)
Later, in November, a school board member in rural Delta County, Colorado courted controversy after suggesting that children in public schools should only use the designated bathrooms that match their genitalia. (RELATED: Colorado school board member now infamous for opposing transgender bathroom laws)
Last February, the Massachusetts Department of Education issued an 11-page set of guidelines explaining that transgender students should be permitted to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable using. (RELATED: New Massachusetts rules allow transgender students to choose their own bathroom)
Lastly, and very ironically, admissions staffers at highly progressive Smith College rejected transgender high school student Calliope Wong’s application — and even returned his application fee — back in March because his genitalia doesn’t fit the all-female school’s admission requirements. (RELATED: Transgender student denied admission to all-female Smith College)
“As you may remember from our previous correspondence, Smith is a women’s college, which means that undergraduate applicants to Smith must be female at the time of admission,” the admissions dean Debra Shaver wrote to Wong.