The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments yesterday in Doe v. Clenchy, involving a transgender girl and her family who sued Orono school officials over her access to the girls bathroom. The state’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, which the state has defined to include gender identity.
The plaintiff is now 15. In 2007, she was barred from using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono, and told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained.
The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled in the girl ’s favor. Superior Court Justice William Anderson reversed the Commission decision, concluding that the school’s actions were permissible under a statutory section that allows schools to segregate restrooms by sex and further that “sex” in that context means biological sex.
During oral argument in the Supreme Court, according to the Bangor Daily News,
The justices’ questions focused on a conflict between a law passed in the 1920s that requires separate bathrooms for boys and girls in schools and the provision enacted in 2005 in the Maine Human Rights Commission that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation…Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said that the teachers and administrators along with the courts were in “uncharted territory” over how to deal with transgender children.
GLAD attorneys Jennifer Levi and Bennett Klein represented the plaintiffs.
In a post at The New Republic, UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler cited the Maines case as a “signal [of] the next frontier of civil rights: transgender equality.” A similar case, also involving an elementary school-age child, is before the state civil rights agency in Colorado. As Professor Winkler noted, “our tolerance for sexual difference still has a long way to go.”