Commission postpones vote on transgender issue, opts for public hearing

After a heated meeting in which some audience members grew frustrated over the lack of a public comment period, the Maine Human Rights Commission decided Monday to put off any vote regarding school accommodations for transgender students. It will instead schedule a public hearing on the issue.

Although they hadn't been among those upset audience members, representatives from both the Maine Principals' Association and the Maine School Management Association cheered the decision.

"We are certainly pleased that the commission chose not to act on the guidelines today," said Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals' Association. "It was very clear to me from all five (commission) members that they definitely believe that there's been the missing step of not having any opportunity for public input."

The commission's proposed guidance says schools should allow transgender students to dress, play sports and choose bathrooms based on the gender with which they identify, rather than their birth gender. The guidance is meant for public and private schools, including preschools, elementary schools, high schools and colleges. It does not cover privately funded religious schools.

Patricia Ryan, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said the guidance was created in response to questions and concerns raised by educators, students and others over how the 2005 Maine Human Rights Act — which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation — applies to schools. The commission has said the proposal is its interpretation of the Maine Human Rights Act and reflects several rulings it has made in discrimination cases since 2005. It said the advice does not have the force of law and schools cannot be sued for not following it.

But some schools, the Maine School Management Association and the Maine Principals' Association say they take the commission's guidance seriously and worry about lawsuits if they don't follow it. At the same time, they're concerned about maintaining student safety in schools and fairness in sports if they do follow it.

The commission met Monday to discuss the proposal. Although the commission had always said public comment would not be allowed during the meeting, a number of people attended expecting to be heard. The meeting grew heated at times.

By the end of the afternoon, one commission member questioned whether the commission even had the authority to create such guidance in connection to the Maine Human Rights Act. It's a point others have made.

"We think this is a legislative judgment, whether to impose specific requirements regarding transgendered students' access to bathrooms, locker rooms and athletics," said Bruce Smith, lawyer for the Maine School Management Association. He added, "We think it's good that they're slowing down and taking a more considerate approach to this."

The commission has not yet set a date for public comment. Ryan said she hopes it will be scheduled for this spring.

In the meantime, Smith said the Maine School Management Association and its constituent organizations, the Maine School Board Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association, may seek feedback from their members about the proposal. They may also encourage those members to speak up if they feel strongly about the issue.

Maine Principals' Association officials have not yet decided whether to speak during a public forum. They may instead submit their comments in writing.

"I have a feeling when that day occurs, there's going to be an awful lot of emotion on both sides of the issue," Durost said.

 ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Transgender

Bigots 2 sane 1. So far.

kj has it right. This is only an issue for the parents not the kids. We can expect a few students to act out to get their parents approval by harassing or harming trans kids. Immediate action by administrators should end this.

So now its tied. 2-2 

Kevin Murphy's picture

Eventually they should

Eventually they should redesign public bathrooms to be open to both sexes.  Individual stalls etc.  Should have done this a long time ago.  It is a ridiculous waste of space, and probably money, to separate them.  The only problem is guys would have to start waiting in lines.

RONALD RIML's picture

Kevin - The guys would have

Kevin - The guys would have to start waiting in lines only if the females started sitting in the urinals.

William L. Colburn III's picture

"But some schools, the Maine

"But some schools, the Maine School Management Association and the Maine Principals' Association say they take the commission's guidance seriously and worry about lawsuits if they don't follow it."

Have they considered lawsuits brought on by the parents of normal (yes, you heard me right....normal) children who don't want their children sharing a restroom with these types? It sounds to me like these "transgenders" (not what I choose to call them, but to be "politically correct"), who at their age, are looking for a free peep show. I agree with "marooned"....get them porta-potties, and additionally, make them or their parents pay for it themselves. After all, why should the public be held financially responsible for a ludicrous proposal that most parents are sure to vehemently oppose?   

 

 's picture

Transgender

How many of these trangender people are there to disrupt Maine schools for what is probably parents wishes and their orientation.  Rent some porti-potties for the few trans whatevers and leave the restrooms as they were meant!  Just because there is a  Japanese car in my neighborhood , does not force me to have to allow it to park in my driveway.   They will have to form their own teams and leave the present teams as they are!

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