ORONO, Maine — When it was time for the RSU 26 board to vote Tuesday night on new guidelines for transgender students — required after the department was sued by a former student — school board vice chairman Jacob Eckert said he was uncomfortable and cast the lone vote against them.
The new rules are the result of a lawsuit by a former student who sued after being denied access to the girls bathroom in grade school and middle school, and Maine Human Rights Commission guidelines created last year in the wake of the lawsuit.
The Orono rules basically state students and staff should address transgender students in accordance with their gender identity, using the name and pronoun corresponding with how they identify themselves. Transgender students also should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity that is consistently asserted at school.
School board members Eckert and Leo Kenney questioned the proposed rules before the 4-1 vote. Kenney said he was worried that local girls “will share a locker room with a transgender student.”
“I think it’s concerning,” Kenney said before the vote.
Eckert followed by saying, “I’m all in favor of making accommodations” but then added that his concern was sacrificing the “comforts of the majority for the comforts of a minority.”
The incident that sparked the court case against Orono began in 2007 when a child, later identified as Nicole Maines, who was born male but identifies as female, was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School. She was told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained.
Her parents filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, and the lawsuit — the first in the country to fight for a transgender student’s access to the bathroom of the gender with which the child identified — followed.
The Penobscot County Superior Court order, dated Nov. 25, 2014, enjoined the Orono School Department from discriminating against other students as it did against Nicole Maines, who is now a University of Maine student.
The 2014 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision guarantees the right of a Maine transgender student to use the school bathroom designed for the gender with which he or she identifies.
Lisa Erhardt, the guidance counselor at Asa Adams School, suggested a couple minor word changes after the first reading of the new rules that were made before the final vote was taken Tuesday night. Millinocket also has established a transgender policy.
Chairman Brian McGill reminded the group that the Orono guidelines align with the state’s constitution, the Maine Human Rights Act and the state’s Human Rights Commission’s recommendations, as well as federal rules.
“We got sued and we lost and it does come back to the law,” McGill said, adding, “I do understand this discomfort but it is Maine law.”