AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, knows he’s about to step into an ideological hornet’s nest. He’s been there before.
Fredette, a former member of the Maine Human Rights Commission who was elected for the House of Representatives in November, seeks to overturn a 2010 commission decision regarding transgender students in public schools. In September the commission opted to work with the Department of Education after the gubernatorial election to develop guidelines for how to accommodate transgender students’ use of bathroom and locker room facilities. That process has yet to unfold.
Fredette’s bill, “An Act to Amend the Application of the Maine Human Rights Act Regarding Public Accommodations,” would amend the Maine Human Rights Act to explicitly allow “the operator of a restroom or shower facility” to decide who can use which gender’s bathroom.
In 2009 the commission ruled against the Orono school department for denying access to the girls bathroom to a biologically male student who identifies as a female. That decision is under appeal. A Penobscot County Superior Court clerk said Friday that no decision has been reached nor is there any timeline for one.
Fredette said his bill puts what he calls a ”major policy decision” before the Legislature where he said it belongs.
“I believe the Maine Human Rights Commission overstepped its bounds,” said Fredette. “I don’t think an unelected entity ought to be making policy decisions like that. The Legislature should make those decisions.”
The bill would add a paragraph to the Maine Human Rights Act that would make it legal to designate a bathroom or shower facility “to the use of members of the designated physiological sex, regardless of sexual orientation,” according to a draft provided by Fredette.
“This is a complex issue and there are not any easy answers,” said Fredette, who added other legislators have told him they would co-sponsor the bill. “I think every school can deal with this issue on its own.”
Maine Human Rights Commission Executive Director Patricia Ryan could not be reached Friday for comment.