Maine's Republican governor has blocked the state's Department of Education and Human Rights Commission from issuing legally binding rules that would guarantee transgender students equal access, reports the Associated Press.
Instead, schools statewide will be encouraged to abide by "guidelines" about how to treat transgender students, issued by the Human Rights Commission last month, but will not face penalties for failing to comply with these suggestions.
The formal rules were drafted by the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Department of Education in response to a 2014 ruling from Maine's high court in the case of Nicole Maines, a transgender student who was denied access to the girls' bathroom (after years of using that facility without incident) at her elementary school.
With the support of the state's Human Rights Commission, the rules would have established a legal standard for trans students statewide, affirming that they have the right to access the gender-segregated facilities (like bathrooms and locker rooms) and sports teams that correspond with their gender.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage told the AP the governor has read the ruling, and believes that it requires the state legislature to take action on the issue, not the executive branch.
But advocates of equal access for trans students say the governor is misinterpreting that landmark ruling, which also saw Maines awarded a $75,000 settlement for the violation of her rights by school officials.
"The governor is violating the law by refusing to let the rule-making go forward," Rep. Matthea Daughtry, a Democrat representing Brunswick, told the AP. "He's putting our students at risk."
The executive director of the Maine Principals' Asscociation told the AP that most schools in the state are already complying with the ruling and granting trans student equal access, but stressed that the proposed rules would have added the weight of law — and potential financial penalties — for any school that denied trans students access to the sports team or facilities that correspond with their gender.
ThinkProgress's Zack Ford notes that LePage has made no secret of his anti-LGBT views, including filing a friend of the court brief against a transgender student in Virginia named Gavin Grimm, who is seeking the right to continue using the boys' bathroom at his high school. The U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department weighed in on the case last year, siding with Grimm's argument that the local school board's decision to bar the 16-year-old from using the boys' bathroom violated his right to equal protection under the law, and Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972. Last June, the Justice Department confirmed that Title IX's prohibition on discrimination based on sex also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Ford reports that the amicus brief onto which LePage signed advances several transphobic tropes and takes a biological essentialist view of sex and gender, ignoring the reality of many trans and gender-nonconforming people's identities as they exist outside a strict male-female binary.
Of the amicus brief in the Virignia case that LePage co-signed, Ford writes:
"Citing the dictionary, the brief sided against the student because 'sex is a biological reality, unlike subjective or cultural constructions of gender or gender identity.'
"The brief also worried that boys’ privacy will be violated when they use urinals because someone who does not have male genitalia would be in the restroom. 'There is no authority for twisting equal protection to force schools to ignore the biology of urination and the privacy of adolescent boys’ reproductive organs,' it read."