AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill concerning transgendered people’s right to choose which restroom they use generated heated debate at a public hearing Tuesday.
Dozens of people gave impassioned, emotional testimony on LD 1046, which would allow the operator of a restroom or shower facility to decide who can use which gender’s restroom.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, served on the Maine Human Rights Commission when it decided that Orono schools and an Auburn Denny’s Restaurant discriminated against transgendered females by not allowing them to use women’s restrooms. Fredette vocalized his dissent against the ruling then and again at Tuesday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
A transgendered person generally is considered someone of one biological sex who identifies himself or herself as belonging to the opposite gender.
According to Fredette, his bill would prevent the Maine Human Rights Commission from being able to find that public and private entities discriminate when they force transgendered people to use restrooms that correspond with their biological sex, but not gender. This then would prevent those transgendered people from suing, as the people in the Orono schools and Denny’s situations did, Fredette argued.
“The concept here is there is not an absolute right for a transgender to go into the bathroom they identify with,” Fredette said in front of the overflowing crowd Tuesday. “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.”
But Tuesday morning Fredette was by far in the minority. During approximately four hours of public testimony, 30 minutes was taken up by the people supporting Fredette’s bill.
People against the bill argued the rest of the time that the measure would cause discrimination and force people who look and act like women to use the men’s room, which would make most people involved feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Wayne Maines was one of the first to speak against the bill.
“Like many of you I doubted transgender children could exist,” he said. “However I never doubted my love for my child.”
Maines’ 13-year-old daughter knew she was a girl at age 6, even though she’d been born a boy, he said. She was happy and her friends accepted her. But by fifth grade things got scary and the family had to “go into hiding” to protect the girl.
“‘She came to me crying and asked, ‘Daddy, what did I do wrong? Daddy, please fix this.’ That’s what dads do, we fix things. I had to break her heart and say, ‘You have not done anything wrong sweetie, but Mommy and I do not know how to fix this,’” Maines said Tuesday, crying. “This bill places transgender children in a position of doom and hopelessness.”
Several organizations spoke against the bill, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
The bill puts businesses and schools in the position of “trying to figure out what someone’s biological sex is and if they’re wrong they open themselves up to liability,” said MCLU executive director Shenna Bellows. “It places the decision on the business owner and it places them in danger of legal action from all sides.”
While many people discussed the precarious situation of restaurant owners, Dick Grotton of the Maine Restaurant Association stood up for them.
Grotten took neither side of the argument.
“We need guidelines that we can follow that help us to not break any laws or break anybody’s rights,” he said to the judiciary committee. “Please, give us some direction.”
About 10 people spoke in favor of the bill, including Gov. Paul LePage’s legal counsel, Dan Billings.
“The governor’s position is that [the current regulations] really put businesspeople in a bad position with the law,” Billings said. “When they’re presented with one of these situations you have to presume the [transgendered] person is acting in good faith and if you don’t presume that you open yourself up to litigation.”
As Sydney resident Tim Russell said, “[Current law] has created a legal access that predators can use in order to accost women and children in public restrooms.”
“It is impossible for young children and women to safely determine whether or not the man — dressed as a woman — is a peeping tom, a rapist or a pedophile; and to continue to permit such a scenario to legally exist is unconscionable and inviting disaster,” Russell said.
Lawmakers on the judiciary panel will discuss the bill in a work session that has yet to be scheduled.