Schools Face Lawsuits Over Transgender Student Treatment

It was only last year that the American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental health ailments, so it’s no wonder that schools are still struggling with laws surrounding fair and legal treatment of transgendered students. Most recently arguments were heard in Maine’s highest court on whether transgendered students should be able to choose which bathroom they use, reports Associated Press writer David Sharp.

15-year-old Nicole Maines is a biological male who has identified as a girl from an early age. On Wednesday she sat in court as lawyers argued over whether her rights were violated when she was asked to use the staff bathroom instead of the girl’s bathroom by Orono school district after someone complained. Her main goal is that students like her can get an education in a safe environment without being bullied and that the Supreme Court will be able to ensure that no one endures what she had to.

“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 the administration, and to be accepted for who they are,” said Maines, who now attends a high school in southern Maine.

In 2009 Nicole’s family and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued over the school’s actions, but at that time a state judge ruled that the district was acting within its rights.

Now the issue at hand is if the school district violated the Maine Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination due to sex or sexual orientation. The current state law mandates separate bathrooms for boys and girls.

Ultimately the Legislature must decide how it will clarify the issue, but as of now the school district has not violated students’ rights, according to Melissa Hewey, lawyer for the school and school district.

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.

This issue is being raised nationwide. In Colorado parents of a 6-year-old transgendered girl is suing the school for making her use a separate bathroom.

The Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools allow transgendered students to use the bathroom of their choice. Initially Nicole Maines was allowed to use the girl’s bathroom until the grandfather of a fifth-grade student complained.

Maines’ attorneys said she felt like she was singled out by having to use the staff bathroom.

“In her owns words, she said it was like being picked out of a crowd of students and being told, ‘They’re the normal students, and you’re not,’” said Levi, who argued the case for the family.