Maine Trans Student Wins Landmark Discrimination Case

A Maine court rules in favor of a transgender teen who had been blocked from using the girls' restroom at school.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

January 30 2014 2:14 PM ET

From left to right: Kelly, Nicole, Jonah, and Wayne Maines, accompanied by GLAD’s Jennifer Levi and Ben Klein; used with permission from GLAD. 

A transgender girl from Orono, Maine, has come away victorious in a lawsuit filed against her school district. The Maine High Court today ruled that Nicole Maines must be provided the same access to school facilities as other female students, citing Maine's Human Rights Act in its findings.

Jennifer Levi, director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders' Transgender Rights Project, lauded the court's decision. "This is a momentous decision that marks a huge breakthrough for transgender young people," Levi said in a press release. "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.”

GLAD represented Maines in the case, working with her and her family as far back as May of 2011, shortly after she was denied the ability to use the girls' restrooms at the Orono elementary school where she was, at the time, in fifth grade, even though she had used the girls' restrooms without incident for nearly two years. Administrators instead forced Maines to use the faculty restroom, separated from other students. In today's ruling, Maine's highest court determined that such treatment violated the state's Human Rights Act. Although Maines no longer attends the school, GLAD declared today's ruling a victory for transgender students statewide.

“A transgender girl is a girl and must be treated as such in all respects, including using the girls’ restroom," GLAD senior attorney Ben Klein stated in today's release. "This ruling is consistent with what educators and human rights commissions — including the Maine Human Rights Commission — around the country have concluded."

When the case was first filed, it referenced Maines as "Susan Doe" to protect her anonymity, but in the years since that initial filing, the Maines family has become increasingly comfortable publicly identifying themselves, and now confidently and openly speak out in support of their teenage daughter. Maines's case, known as Doe v. Clenchy, was bolstered by an amicus brief filed on her behalf by the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other child welfare organiztions. 

“This is a momentous decision," Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a release. "It is the first time a state court has declared it unlawful to deny a transgender student access to the bathroom that matches who she is. It follows on the heels of the Colorado Civil Rights Division’s groundbreaking June 2013 ruling in favor of 6-year-old Coy Mathis, whose school had barred her from using the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school because she is transgender. It sends a powerful message to schools around the country that transgender girls and boys need to be treated just like all girls and boys at school."

Maines's father echoed the sentiment shared by many parents of trans children. "As parents, all we’ve ever wanted is for Nicole and her brother Jonas to get a good education and to be treated just like their classmates, and that didn’t happen for Nicole," said Wayne Maines. "What happened to my daughter was extremely painful for her and our whole family, but we can now close this very difficult chapter in our lives. We are very happy knowing that because of this ruling, no other transgender child in Maine will have to endure what Nicole experienced.”

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