For the first time in the U.S., a court ruled it unlawful and a violation of human rights to prevent transgender students from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. This decision was reached after a three-year-long case in Maine, filed on behalf of transgender high school student Nicole Maines. Nicole and her family, which includes her parents and twin brother, were represented by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) of Boston.
Since 2007, when she was an elementary school student, Nicole had been required to use the staff bathroom after a student's grandparent complained to the school. In 2009, the Maines family and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued the school district, arguing that Nicole was facing discrimination and that the school was not properly addressing harassment she received from fellow students. A Superior Court judge initially ruled against the Maines in November 2012, and stated: "In this case, the school acted within the bounds of its authority in prohibiting [the girl] from using the girls’ restroom; it did not itself harass [the girl] by its actions, and it was not deliberately indifferent to the harassment that [she] experienced from others."
A resilient bunch, the Maines family did not stop working to defend Nicole and resolved to appeal the Court's decision.
"I wouldn't wish my experience on another trans person," Nicole said to reporters in June after oral arguments were presented the state's high court. Still, she remained optimistic and determined to improve trans students' realities. "I hope [the court] understand[s] how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education, have fun, make friends, and not have to worry about being bullied by students or the administration and to be accepted for who they are. That's the most important thing."
As of yesterday, the Maines family emerged victorious when the Main Supreme Judicial Court found that the school district acted in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.
“This is a momentous decision that marks a huge breakthrough for transgender young people,” said Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, reported the Bangor Daily News. “Schools have a responsibility to create a learning environment that meets and balances the needs of all kids and allows every student to succeed. For transgender students, this includes access to all school facilities, programs and extracurricular activities in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.
"I want to enjoy the moment, hug my kids and do some healing," said Nicole's father, Wayne, after the case came to its close.
In addition to being the first time a U.S. court has ruled it unlawful to prevent trans students from using the bathroom that matches their self-identification, the Bangor Daily News reported that the case has set additional legal precedents: "It is the first time the state’s highest court has interpreted amendments to the Maine Human Rights act that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. It also is one of those rare times when a law court decision makes law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine."
Not only has Nicole raised the bar for fair treatment of students who are trans, but she can serve as an admirable example of what young people can accomplish when they are devoted to bettering the world around them. Congratulations to Nicole and her family for making history!