Maine legislation that would restrict transgender people’s right to use the restroom of their choice drew emotional testimony at the state capitol in Augusta Tuesday, with many speakers opposed to the bill and supportive of transgender rights, the Bangor Daily News reports.
The proposed law would allow the operator of a public restroom or shower to decide whether patrons could use the men’s or women’s facility, meaning transgender people could be forced to use the one matching their biological sex, not the gender with which they identify. It also would prevent them from filing discrimination lawsuits in such cases.
Republican state representative Kenneth Fredette put the bill forward in response to a Maine Human Rights Commission ruling that found a school in Orono and a Denny’s restaurant in Auburn discriminated against transgender people by not allowing them to use the restroom of their choice, a right established by the state’s human rights act in 2005.
“The concept here is there is not an absolute right for a transgender to go into the bathroom they identify with,” Fredette told an overflow crowd at a judiciary committee hearing on his bill. “We have to draw lines in this society so we balance rights with the rights of everyone else.” For example, he said, “What situation do we put young children in when they go into a private place and then what they perceive to be the person of the opposite sex comes into that bathroom? That could be quite shocking.”
However, supporters of Fredette’s bill were in a distinct minority at the hearing, taking up only half an hour with their testimony, while opponents spoke for three and a half hours, the Daily News reports. “This bill places transgender children in a position of doom and hopelessness,” said a tearful Wayne Maines, whose 13-year-old daughter was born male but has identified as female since age 6. The girl has been threatened so much that the family has had to go into hiding, he said.
Jennifer Levi (pictured), an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said the current law is working fine, with only three suits filed over restroom access in the past six years. “This bill is a solution looking for a problem,” she said, adding that it would create a “litigation nightmare” for business operators who try to determine a patron’s gender.
Both sides cited safety concerns. Those supporting the bill said men dressed as women could use access to women’s restrooms to commit sexual assaults, while opponents said transgender people who look and act like women could face danger if forced to use men’s restrooms.
The judiciary committee will schedule another session for discussion of the bill. Read more here.