Last May, the Obama Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance to schools about supporting transgender students in schools under Title IX. Schools receive guidance via a “Dear Colleague Letter” that helps provide answers and helps guide educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders better understand an issue.
Fast forward to February 22, 2017, when Trump Department of Justice and Department of Education withdrew the Obama administration’s policy guidance which afforded protections for those same transgender students.
The Obama administration’s Dear Colleague Letter encouraged schools “Across the country [to] strive to create and sustain inclusive, supportive, safe, and nondiscriminatory communities for all students. In Maine and across the nation many schools and districts followed the guidance.
Here in Maine, from my point of view, this policy reversal will have little impact because of Maine State law as interpreted by the Maine Supreme Court, still requires that transgender students be treated consistently with the gender with which they identify, if different from the gender assigned at birth.
However, what this policy shift does mean is that the federal Departments of Justice and Education will no longer initiate enforcement activities such as complaint investigations or litigation to protect the rights of transgender students. However, again, here in Maine, transgender students and their parents may still seek to enforce their rights at the Maine Human Rights Commission and State courts.
The Maine Human Rights Act protects students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the Maine Supreme Court, decided in 2014 Doe v. Regional School Unit 26, 2014 ME 11 that denying a student access to a communal bathroom consistent with the student’s gender identity constituted sexual orientation discrimination in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.
Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, recently stated that Maine law is clear:
“The people of Maine adopted protections for LGBTQ rights over 10 years ago…..The Maine Human Rights Act applies to ensure their civil rights in schools no matter what the federal government does regarding transgender rights.”
While it is true that some Maine school districts may not have updated policies, it is also true that not much will change since the Maine Human Rights Act is in place.