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.”

 

 

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Thousands of people from across Upstate New York attended the 2016 CNY Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday, flooding the annual gathering with conversations about the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando less than one week ago.

However, the festival was not a grim event. Despite the deeply somber start to the week's activities, the joyful crowd was determined to celebrate the culmination of CNY Pride Week with music, dancing and hula hooping.

Kathryn Conner and Megan Monahan of New Hartford, N.Y, drove more than an hour to attend CNY Pride Fest. It was Monahan's first time at the festival.

"I came out here to support the victims in Orlando," said Monahan. "They have a lot of love coming from us in New York."

Conner said she was completely shocked when she woke up on Sunday to hear about the Orlando shootings.

"It takes a lot to make me speechless and I had no words," said Conner. "A lot of my friends are LGBT so it hit close to home. It was absolutely horrible."

Conner said she expected Central New York's LGBTQ community to use their anger about the shootings to spread their message even more passionately.

"The world is filled with hate, but love will always conquer in the end," Conner said.

Keturah Thorpe and Jamie Stulir of Binghamton signed messages of solidarity to Orlando on a large blanket.

"For how far we've come as a gay community, it's crazy that something like that would just happen," said Stulir. "It's funny how they think it would set us back. The way [the shooting] brought people together is amazing. There's more awareness now for gay, trans and bi lifestyles."

They both felt assured that Syracuse police would keep festival attendees safe. However, Thorpe said she would be moving to a bigger city soon, and she worries about more mass shootings in populated places.

"I'm queer and I feel like a fear has been awakened that I didn't experience before," said Thorpe. "I don't want to show [my sexuality] as much."

Mary Gillen and Sandy Davis have attended the CNY Pride Festival for many years.Katrina Tulloch

Mary Gillen and Sandy Davis, a married couple from Mexico, N.Y., have attended CNY Pride Fest for many years. They said the Orlando shooting represented a tidal change in the way people talk about underrepresented groups in 2016.

"It isn't just Orlando," said Gillen. "There's bigotry and hatred of so many people. The rhetoric in our country has changed, and [Donald] Trump is driving that narrative."

Gillen and Davis tied hateful rhetoric directly to the presidential campaign.

"Trump initiates visible lash-outs against different groups of people," said Davis. "He's making it OK. He encouraging people to eliminate anyone who's different."

In the last 10 years, Gillen and Davis felt marriage equality become increasingly accepted. They grew up decades ago, when identifying as LGBTQ felt more like being part of "a subculture" than a community.

In last couple years, however, Gillen said that acceptance has shifted.

"We have felt safe as lesbians up until now," she said. "With Trump and the religious right, I'm starting to look over my shoulder. Do I have to watch my back again? Damn it, we're not afraid. We're not backing down. Those days are done."

Mayor Stephanie Miner marched in the CNY Pride Parade and her office increased police presence at this year's festival. At least two protesters stood outside the event on West Kirkpatrick Street.

 

 

A federal judge in Chicago is allowing several transgender students to have a voice in a lawsuit seeking to reverse a suburban school district's policy allowing a transgender student to use girls' facilities.

The court Wednesday granted a motion to intervene filed by the ACLU of Illinois for the students and an advocacy group.

Conservative organizations sued in May on behalf of dozens of families with links to Palatine-based Township High School District 211, naming the district and the Department of Education as defendants.

District 211 allowed the access at William Fremd High School only after the department threatened it with the loss of federal funds.

Plaintiffs said the district and department already represented the transgender students' interests. But the court concluded their intervention could be helpful deciding the case.

 

In Dallas, other Texas cities and across the nation, the gay, lesbian and transgender community has seen violence before, from the recent attacks in Oak Lawn to Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard, and an ever-lengthening list of transgender women. But never anything like this.

Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, grimly changed the equation, stirring communal fears and swiftly prompting tighter security at gay pride events. The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, told his father he had been disturbed by seeing two men kissing in Miami.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub, which killed at least 50 people and was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting to date, occurred amid numerous events nationwide celebrating LGBT Pride Month. In Dallas and several other cities hosting events on Sunday — including block parties in Boston and a festival in Washington — authorities beefed up the police presence.

This “is a tragic illustration of the legitimate safety fears that those in our LGBT community live with every day,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings

As extra police were assigned to the Oak Lawn neighborhood, a hub of the local gay community, Lee Daughtry, owner of Alexandre’s Bar, reflected on the weekend march that had North Texans showing support for those in Orlando. “The overall attitude was a little bit somber. But when we band together what we saw is we can begin to heal our wounds and move forward, and continue the fight for equality, and continue the fight against hate speech.”

Many are hoping that some good — some unity — can come from these tragic events.

A memorial has been growing at the Legacy of Love monument in Oak Lawn. People have been stopping by with flowers, posters, photographs and candles to reflect on the attack, its victims and its impact on the community. The landmark has become the area’s touchstone to what happened in Florida.

Dallas community activist Daniel Scott Cates helped organize the ‘Dallas to Orlando’ vigil for those who lost their lives on June 12. “I think that, for myself and so many in the Dallas community who’ve been impacted by a rash of hate crimes lately, what happened in Orlando hit us in a very personal spot. And I think what you see here at the monument is people who are just heartbroken… absolutely heartbroken,” he said.

The vigil drew thousands of North Texans, from all different backgrounds, to the Resource Center on Cedar Springs Road. The diversity of the crowd was something Cates believes impacted those attending and those who saw the news coverage. “What many in our community learned last night, maybe for the first time and something that some of us have known for a long time, is that we’re not alone. There are so many people out there, who simply because of who they are, because of their skin color, their religion, their sexuality, their gender, are targets of hate and violence. And what we learned last night is those people are ready to link arms together to put an end to this kind of senseless tragedy in our country and we’re ready to join them.”

Organizers also took donations during the Sunday night march, raising $5,600 for the families of the Orlando victims.

In a separate incident Sunday a man was arrested in Southern California even as Mateen’s attack was ongoing, telling police he was going to a gay pride parade. Twenty-year-old James Wesley Howell of Indiana, had assault rifles, ammunition and chemicals that could be used to make an explosive, according to police, who said there was no evidence of a connection to the Orlando massacre. Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially tweeted that Howell said he wanted to “do harm” at the event, but she corrected her statement to say only that he said he was going there.

“Hug the people that you love. Do it every day,” added Cates. “Because, I think this has really hit home for a lot of us, that life is pretty short. Need to cherish people while they’re here.”

Before Sunday, the most prominent incidents of violence against gays claimed one life at a time. The highest profile of these included the murder of Milk, a pioneering gay politician in San Francisco in 1978, and the 1998 murder of Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming at the hands of two men who beat him into a coma while he was tied to a fence. A federal hate crimes law bears Shepard’s name.

Investigators were still trying to determine Mateen’s motives. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call before the shooting, according to according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

But LGBT activists had no doubt that their community was the intended target.

“Our practices and institutions may change in light of this tragedy — LGBT gathering places may have more security now,” said Rev. Alisan Rowland, pastor of the LGBT-welcoming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. “But we will never, ever go away. We will never be cowed.”

Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said the continued vilification of LGBT people by their detractors, and the continued resistance to expansion of their civil rights, was “an invitation to violence.”

“When people are targeted by others who are scared of difference, they’re not safe when they go dancing, they’re not safe when they go out to pray,” she said. “If we live in culture where fear of difference is encouraged, that can, in the hands of crazy people, have dreadful consequences.”

There have been a few previous attacks on gay nightclubs, but only one that caused a significant number of deaths. A fire set by an arsonist killed 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973; the arsonist was never caught.

On December 31, 2013, about 750 people were celebrating New Year’s Eve at Neighbours, a popular gay nightclub in Seattle, when Musab Masmari poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured, and Masmari was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.

Sunday’s attack struck a place that has long been thought of as a safe haven for the community — the gay nightclub.

“Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter away from the judging glares of society, where we could love and be loved for who we are and how we want to be,” wrote Paul Raushenbush, a clergyman and popular gay writer, expressing his heartbreak in a lengthy, emotional post on Facebook in which he recalled going out dancing while at seminary in New York.

 

 

With a greater focus on transgender inclusivity this year, Washington University’s chapter of the national organization V-Day raised money through The Vagina Monologues this weekend for the St. Louis Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG), in addition to raising awareness for general women’s issues.

This year’s beneficiary, MTUG, works under the mission “By Trans for Trans,” drawing attention and resources to ending violence against transwomen and all trans and non-binary, nonconforming people.Although trans-inclusivity has been a feature of the Vagina Monologues since 2004, MTUG’s partnership adds an additional element of support for inclusivity. Proceeds from the production will go toward Trans 101 training, trans-visibility week and other educational and advocacy initiatives.

Seniors Amanda Harris and Rebecca Basson, co-directors of this year’s production, wanted to choose a beneficiary that was inclusive to trans rights and issues.

“When we talk about women, we’re not just talking about people who were born with female anatomy—whatever that looks like—but rather people who identify as a woman, people who identify on the spectrum of gender and try to make it as inclusive as possible to everyone,” Harris said.

“I think having MTUG as a beneficiary this year starts the conversation about how we have to focus on not just your typical idea of a woman, but [on] all the other people that might identify as women,” Basson added.

Among the monologues performed this year were “My Vagina is Angry,” a humorous description regarding all of the difficulties endured by vaginas (including OB-GYN tools and tampons) and “They Beat the Girl out of my Boy…Or so They Tried,” which depicted a transwoman’s realization of her true gender identity.

“I ached to be completed. I ached to belong,” the script read. Five actresses portrayed transwomen, including sophomore Sally Rifkin, junior Jessica Sun and seniors Katie Smith, Leora Spitzer and Kelsey Stanley.Although trans-inclusivity has been a feature of the Vagina Monologues since 2004, MTUG’s partnership adds an additional element of support for inclusivity. Proceeds from the production will go toward Trans 101 training, trans-visibility week and other educational and advocacy initiatives.

Seniors Amanda Harris and Rebecca Basson, co-directors of this year’s production, wanted to choose a beneficiary that was inclusive to trans rights and issues.

“When we talk about women, we’re not just talking about people who were born with female anatomy—whatever that looks like—but rather people who identify as a woman, people who identify on the spectrum of gender and try to make it as inclusive as possible to everyone,” Harris said.

“I think having MTUG as a beneficiary this year starts the conversation about how we have to focus on not just your typical idea of a woman, but [on] all the other people that might identify as women,” Basson added.

Among the monologues performed this year were “My Vagina is Angry,” a humorous description regarding all of the difficulties endured by vaginas (including OB-GYN tools and tampons) and “They Beat the Girl out of my Boy…Or so They Tried,” which depicted a transwoman’s realization of her true gender identity.

“I ached to be completed. I ached to belong,” the script read. Five actresses portrayed transwomen, including sophomore Sally Rifkin, junior Jessica Sun and seniors Katie Smith, Leora Spitzer and Kelsey Stanley.Freshman Anna Bartels-Newton said that there were a lot of interesting monologues about topics she may not have necessarily considered.

“I thought [the monologues] were really, really thought-provoking and empowering. A lot of the messages that were being sent about accepting yourself and loving yourself were ones that women need to hear way more often,” she said. “I feel lucky that this is something that’s offered at Wash. U. that I can listen to and enjoy it.”

Freshman Alfredo Jahn enjoyed “They Beat the Girl out of my Boy…Or so They Tried.”

“I’m a genderqueer individual so the representation—that was really nice to see,” Jahn said.

Though there were no transgender actresses portraying the transgender monologue, Harris and Basson worked to give the entire cast an inclusive educational experience.

“Obviously all of our women playing transwomen couldn’t identify with the experiences of a transwoman, but we worked to help educate them and help them understand, as much as they can, the experience of a transwoman,” Basson said.

Harris noted the importance of hearing the experiences of other women and hopes audience members will start conversations within the community.

“I think it’s important that people are comfortable not just saying the word ‘vagina’ but talking about women’s bodies and their own perceptions and their own fears and experiences,” Harris said. “I think this is a really good opportunity to start that dialogue.”

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