AUGUSTA, Maine — State Rep. Ken Fredette wants everyone to be clear on where he or she can go to the bathroom.
The Newport representative has submitted a bill to clarify the Maine Human Rights Act stance on restroom and shower facilities.
In pondering his bill, Fredette considered a 2007 incident in which the owners of an Auburn restaurant were sued for refusing to let a transgender person use the ladies room.
That controversy began at Denny’s Restaurant when Brianna Freeman, formerly known as Bruce, used the ladies room while she was undergoing a male-to-female transgender procedure.
The flap resulted in debate about what right business owners, school officials and others have to dictate who can use which bathrooms. It also resulted in a court case, which is still pending.
Fredette, a former member of the Maine Human Rights Commission, seeks to overturn a 2010 decision regarding transgenders in public schools.
The suit filed by Freeman and other transgenders could set a precedent, Fredette said, and result in a flurry of lawsuits against business owners who only seek to protect their customers.
“We need clarification of this issue,” Fredette said in a press release. “We should be understanding of the individuals involved, but these lawsuits could have far-reaching, negative consequences for any Maine business with separate bathroom facilities. It really puts them in an untenable position and subjects them to potentially substantial financial loss.”
His bill seeks to establish that it is not an act of discrimination for a public or private entity to restrict restroom and shower use to members of a biological sex.
The bill is likely to be as controversial as it is confusing.
Fredette, a lawyer, was moved to submit the bill after the Denny’s case and a similar incident in Orono, where middle school officials refused to allow a male-to-female sixth-grader to use the girls’ restroom.
The Human Rights Commission ruled in September that the school had discriminated against the student, even though the school had accommodated the child by providing a separate bathroom and a private locker.
Fredette has said it was his belief that the commission overstepped its bounds when it made that decision.
When she filed suit against Denny’s, Freeman, 44 at the time, said she considered herself female and believed she should be allowed to use the women’s bathroom in any public place.
“I am accepted and acknowledged as a female,” she told a reporter in 2010. “It’s really all I’m asking people to try to do.”