School in a smaller town is hard; in some ways, harder than college. It definitely doesn't get any easier when you are a transgendered female. But instead of sitting quietly, Nicole Maines has chosen to make a difference in her community.
Nicole is a 15-year-old girl who was born biologically male, but has identified as female since she was 6-years-old. For a while, Nicole was allowed to use the women's restroom at her now-former school in the Orono school district in Maine. However, after the grandfather of a fifth grade student complained by expressing discomfort by that fact, then-11-year-old Maines was then directed to use the faculty bathroom.
She had felt, according to her lawyer, that she was being treated as abnormal by being told to use a different restroom. Feeling that her rights had been violated, she and her family, along with the Maine Human Rights Commission, sued the school in 2009. While the Maines family has seen struggle before, when a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the school in 2012, they are continuing this battle even now. It is with the encouragement of her supportive father Mr. Wayne Maines, her mother Ms. Kelly Maines, and her twin brother Jonas that Nicole is able to keep fighting. Nicole continues this case while attending a high school in southern Maine.
The immediate question is whether or not the school has violated the Maine Human Rights Act, a document that bans discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. It is also important to note that state law has mandated separate bathrooms for boys and girls in school.
However, this court case has also allowed us to ask a bigger question about educational opportunities for transgender students. At present, a 6-year-old girl in Colorado and her parents have sued her school for making her use a different bathroom as well. While there are resources developing for parents of and those who identify as transgender and gender-fluid children, including support groups, this field is relatively new in the policy and education arenas. Only last year was "gender identity disorder," commonly ascribed to transgender people, removed from the list of mental illnesses as deemed by the American Psychiatric Association. We still have a long way to go.
Being transgender comes with its own set of challenges. It questions the gender binary and gender expression, two things that are deeply entrenched in us from our childhoods.
But we need to start now.
Hopefully, Nicole's case starts to break some more substantial ground.