Transgender student suit goes to state high court

BANGOR, Maine (AP) — Lawyers for a transgender girl and an elementary school that required the fifth-grader to use a staff bathroom instead of the girls restroom clashed before Maine’s highest court recently over whether her rights were violated, a case that lays bare the difficult decisions facing school administrators.

The family and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued, but a judge in the state’s lower Superior Court ruled that the Orono school district acted within its discretion by requiring her to use a staff bathroom after there was a complaint about the student using the girls bathroom.

After a recent hearing, the student, Nicole Maines, who’s now 15 and attending a high school in southern Maine, said she wouldn’t wish her experience on anyone else and hope the justices hear her out.

“I hope they understood how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education and have fun and make friends, and not have to worry about being bullied by students or administration, and be accepted for who they are,” the sophomore said.

At issue is whether the school violated the Maine Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. But state law also requires separate bathrooms for boys and girls in schools.

Melissa Hewey, lawyer for the school and school district, said afterward it should be up to the Legislature to clarify the issue.

“To the extent that the people in Maine decide that this law in Maine should be changed, then that should be done. But right now the law is what it is, and our school district didn’t violate it,” she said.

The case goes beyond just the bathroom issue to the broader question of what’s best for transgender students, said Jennifer Levi, director of Transgender Rights Project for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.

“At the core of this case is whether the promise of equal educational opportunities for transgender students is realized,” she said.

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