BANGOR, Maine — The teenager whose family has sued the Orono school district over her use of the girls bathroom six years ago said she did not want another transgender student to be subjected to a similar experience.
“I wouldn’t wish my experience on another trans person,” Nicole Maines, 15, told reporters Wednesday outside the Penobscot Judicial Center. “I am happy the court was able to hear my case today.”
The girl, her parents, Wayne and Kelly Maines, and her twin brother, Jonas Maines, held an impromptu press conference after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case.
“I hope they understand how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education, have fun, make friends and not have to worry about being bullied by students or the administration and to be accepted for who they are,” the teenager said as her father held an umbrella to shield her from the rain. “That’s the most important thing.”
The family sat in the front row of the spectator section of the ceremonial courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse on Harlow Street in Bangor. They listened intently as the justices questioned attorneys.
“I just want to echo what my daughter said,” Wayne Maines told reporters after oral arguments ended. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to be here and to be able to be heard. We want our children to have the same opportunities other students have to be accepted. That’s all any parent wants.”
He said that the children no longer attend school in Orono. The twins attend a private high school in Cumberland County where they have been accepted.
“Nicole is treated by the school the same way her girlfriends are,” the father said.
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 Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The incident that sparked the court case began in 2007 when a child, who was born male but identifies as female, was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono. She was told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained.
The girl’s parents and the MHRC sued the Orono school district, now called Riverside RSU 26, and then Superintendent Kelly Clenchy after the commission ruled in the girl’s favor.
Both sides have appealed the November decision of a Superior Court judge to the Maine supreme court. Justice William Anderson’s decision sided with the school district over the girl’s use of the student bathroom.
The questions the court has been asked to decide by the Maines family include:
• Does the exclusion of a transgender girl from a school’s communal girls’ restroom violate the Maine Human Rights Act because it prohibits a school from treating a transgender girl differently from all other girls?
• Does a school engage in unlawful segregation in violation of the MHRA when it denies a transgender girl access to the communal-use restroom and forces her to use a staff restroom?
The school has acknowledged that it was not possible for the girl to use the boys bathroom, according to the brief filed by Bennett H. Klein, the Boston attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who represents the Doe family.
Klein’s co-counsel, Jennifer Levi of Boston, told justices Wednesday that forcing Nicole Maines to use an adult bathroom rather than the girls bathroom made her feel “isolated and marginalized and interfered with her ability to get a good education.”
Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represents the school district, said outside the courthouse that the issue of who has access to school bathrooms has not been addressed directly by the Legislature.
Her co-counsel, David Kallin of Portland, told justices that every court in every jurisdiction that has decided the issue has chosen not to divide school bathrooms on the basis of gender identification.
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.
A “friend of the court brief” was filed in the case by the following organizations: Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Maine Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers-Maine Chapter, Trans Youth Equality Foundation, the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Downeast and Southern Maine chapters of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
There is no timeline under which the justices must issue a decision.