A Maine county court has ordered a public school district to pay $75,000 to the family and attorneys of Nicole Maines, a transgender student who was asked to stop using the girls’ restroom.
The financial award is the conclusion to a case that has spent several years in state courts. The parents of Nicole, a transgender “girl,” sued the Orono school district after it asked Nicole to use a unisex faculty bathroom—a segregation that amounted to discrimination, they said.
Nicole, who was born a boy and used to go by the name Wyatt, wore girls’ clothing as early as age 3. Nicole’s parents, who legally changed his name from Wyatt to Nicole during grade school, supported the behavior, and by third grade, teachers referred to the student as “she.”
The elementary school, Asa C. Adams School in Orono, allowed Nicole to use the girls’ bathroom in younger grades because the bathrooms were single occupancy. In 2007, when Nicole was in fifth grade, administrators allowed Nicole to use the communal girl’s restroom until another male student complained. Thereafter, the school provided a unisex bathroom for Nicole.
“Separate but equal does not work,” Nicole told The Boston Globe in 2011.
In January 2014, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the school district’s unisex bathroom accommodation discriminated against Nicole and violated the Maine Human Rights Act.
The $75,000 award will be split between the Maines family, their attorneys, and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston legal advocacy group that assisted the family.
Joanne Harriman, the superintendent of the Orono school district, told me the fees would be covered by insurance. Asked how her schools would handle a case of a student declaring a new gender on a whim, Harriman said the district did not have a formal policy in place but would look to its attorneys for guidance in such situations.
Nicole is now 17, a high school senior, and has taken hormone therapy to delay the onset of puberty—a controversial treatment intended to make a later sex change operation easier.
The American College of Pediatricians says the vast majority of “gender identity disorder” cases in children—80 to 98 percent—disappear after adolescence. It notes no science-based evidence has proven the safety of hormonal treatments to delay puberty.
The Orono school district’s unisex bathroom accommodation for Nicole had been a “compassionate, common-sense approach,” said Carroll Conley, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Conley, the former president of the Northeast Principals’ Association, said the court’s ruling could ultimately have implications for athletic teams: “A child can stand up and say for any reason, ‘I’m a girl, I can use the girls’ restroom, I can [play] on the girls’ basketball team.’”
— by Daniel James Devine