AUGUSTA, Maine — The Supreme Court of Maine has ruled that a local school district discriminated against a male student that identifies as a female when it denied him from using the girls’ restroom.
The court ruled 5-1 on Thursday that the Orono School District violated the Maine Human Rights Act when it offered then-5th grader Wyatt Maines the use of the staff bathroom, but barred him from using the restroom for female students.
As previously reported, Maines is an identical twin who, according to his parents, has exhibited feminine behavior since he was a preschooler. By the time he reached fifth grade, Wyatt legally changed his name to “Nicole,” let his hair grow long, and began regularly wearing feminine clothing.
During that same time period, Wyatt also started using the girls’ restrooms at Asa Adams Elementary School, which disturbed some of the other students. In late 2007, a student’s grandfather voiced his concern to school officials, and the superintendent asked Wyatt to instead use a unisex staff bathroom, instead of the main girls’ restroom.
However, Wyatt’s parents—Wayne and Kelly Maines—were unhappy with the superintendent’s request. So, in early 2008, they hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the elementary school, claiming the bathroom policy unfairly discriminated against their child. The case has been battled all the way to Maine’s highest court.
After previous court rulings had concluded that the school district had acted within the law, the Maine Supreme Court sided with the Maines family on Thursday, stating that the now 16-year-old student should have been accommodated for his mental health’s sake. Maines was later diagnosed with gender dysphoria following the 2007 incident.
“Decisions about how to address students’ legitimate gender identity issues are not to be taken lightly,” Justice Warren Silver wrote on behalf of the majority. “Where, as here, it has been clearly established that a student’s psychological well-being and educational success depend upon being permitted to use the communal bathroom consistent with her gender identity, denying access to the appropriate bathroom constitutes sexual orientation discrimination.”
He said, however, that the court’s opinion “must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice.”
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley, Justices Donald Alexander, Ellen Gorman and Joseph Jabar joined in the majority decision, while Justice Andrew Mead dissented. Justice Jon Levy recused himself from the case for reasons that have not been disclosed.
Mead said that he agreed that students should be able to use the restroom of their identification, but did not believe that the school district violated the law by offering the staff restroom.
Maines’ parents praised the court following the decision.
“I’m extremely proud of our state and our leaders, of what they did,” father Wayne Maines told reporters. “It sends the message that you can believe in the system.”
Attorneys for the school district likewise said that they were satisfied with the ruling.
“In its decision issued today, the Maine Supreme Court confirmed what has been the Orono School Department’s contention all along — that its personnel acted with ‘tremendous sensitivity and insight’ and undertook a ‘rational and compassionate approach’ while ‘working in uncharted territory,’”attorney Melissa Hewey told the Sun Journal. “And this, from our perspective, is the most important part of the decision.
“The court has also provided helpful guidance about how to handle this issue that is becoming more and more common in schools around the state and the country,” she continued. “Now that its obligations have been clarified, the Orono School Department will take all necessary steps to ensure that it complies with the law.”
But Christian and family groups are expressing concerns over the ramifications of the decision. Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute said that although there are limits to the ruling, it could be used in other states to push a radical agenda.
“On its face, the Maine ruling is limited to that state and is further limited to students with a diagnosed gender identity disorder or dysphoria,” he told Christian News Network. “The concern, though, is that activist judges, politicians and school officials around the country will try to expand and apply this reasoning, regardless of how thin the legal basis may be for doing so.”
“It is imperative that parents in every state contact their elected officials to demand increased protections for student privacy,” McReynolds continued. “It is alarming that the Maine decision and similar pushes by transgender activists are blatantly ignoring the constitutional rights of the more than 99% of students who do not identify as transgender.”