June 17, 2011
>Maine Defeats Attack on Human Rights Act
By GLSEN Public Policy intern Rebecca Weidler
Last week, the Maine legislature voted 81-61 (House) and 23-11 (Senate) to reject a proposed bill that would have required transgender individuals to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and showers of their assigned biological sex rather than their gender identity. The proposed legislation would have negated parts of Maine’s Human Rights Act, which protects transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations.
The 81-61 and 23-11 defeat of the bill by both Republican-majority chambers of the Maine legislature showcases the extreme discriminatory and backward nature of the bill. In a quote given to the associated press, EqualityMaine Executive Director Betsey Smith noted, “In any climate, [the defeat of the discriminatory bill] would be a tremendous success — but this victory came out of the most conservative legislature Maine has seen in decades.” The work of organizations such as EqualityMaine—and GLSEN’s constituents in Maine—helped legislators understand the hurtful and bigoted nature of the attack on transgender rights.
The discriminatory bill was motivated by two cases currently being decided by the Maine Superior Court. Both of these pending lawsuits were brought by transgender Mainers who were refused their right—protected under the Maine Human Rights Act—to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. One of the two plaintiffs is a transgender girl, Nicole, who was denied use of the girls’ bathroom at her middle school. The 13 year old extensively lobbied the Maine legislature, helping policymakers understand the real-world implications for her if the bill did pass. In an interview with Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Nicole reflected on what she would have to face had the bill passed: “I don’t think they’re going to kill me ’cause I look like a girl–I think I can easily pass so that’s not a problem. But of course just knowing that you’re not following the law is troubling to me, but I do think I’m going to be in more danger if I do follow the law on this one.”
Zachary Heiden, Legal Director for the Maine Civil Liberties Union, highlighted Nicole’s impact on Maine legislators: “She is so obviously a girl when you speak to her, when you look at her, and I think legislators… realize, wow, if this bill passes this girl is going to be told she has to go use the men’s bathroom, and to contemplate what sort of harm that might place her in.”
By striking down this hurtful piece of legislation, the Maine legislature has taken a stand for all transgender residents, including students. Congratulations to Maine for this great victory!
Rebecca Weidler is a rising senior at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. She is majoring in Inequality and Social Policy and writing her major thesis on what policies LGBTQ students in North Carolina think are most effective at ensuring their academic and personal well-being. A Maine native, she first became involved in LGBT advocacy in 2005 while working on the Maine Won’t Discriminate campaign, which defended the state’s protections for the LGBT community in housing, employment, credit, public accommodations, and education.