February 1

Bill Nemitz: Maine's top court stands up for rights of transgender student

What, we can only wonder, does Paul Melanson have to say now?

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Transgender student Nicole Maines, center, with her father, Wayne Maines, left, and brother Jonas, speaks outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on June 12, 2013.

2013 File Photo/The Associated Press

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Melanson’s name doesn’t appear in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s decision, handed down Thursday, affirming the right of a transgender student to use the girls’ restroom at her public school.

But he’s right there in the court’s narrative about how Nicole Maines, then a vulnerable fifth-grader, careened from the way life should be to a living hell.

“Her use of the girls’ bathroom went smoothly, with no complaints from other students’ parents, until a male student followed her into the restroom on two separate occasions, claiming that he, too, was entitled to use the girls’ bathroom,” the court found. “The student was acting on instructions from his grandfather, who was his guardian and was strongly opposed to the school’s decision to allow (Nicole) to use the girls’ bathroom.”

Melanson was that grandfather. And while the court’s landmark decision was technically against Regional School Unit 26 in Orono, which did the right thing by Nicole only to wilt when the spotlight shone too brightly on its neck of the woods, it’s also a long-overdue repudiation of the man who used his own grandson to target another innocent child.

A little history:

Born one of twin males, Nicole showed signs of identifying as a girl as young as age 2. Her neutral clothing kept everything under wraps until third grade, when her parents, Wayne and Kelly Maines, informed the school principal that Nicole was transgender.

It was, at least for the time being, no big deal.

Nicole presented fully as a girl by fourth grade. Just before fifth grade, she was diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” – the American Psychiatric Association’s newly minted term (changed last year from the more pejorative “gender disorder”) for those with a gender identity different from their sex at birth.

“School officials recognized that it was important to (Nicole’s) psychological health that she live socially as a female,” wrote Justice Warren Silver in the court’s 5-1 majority decision. “In third grade, teachers and students began referring to (Nicole) as ‘she.’ By fourth grade, (Nicole) was dressing and appearing exclusively as a girl.”

Thus it only made sense that as it developed a specialized education plan for Nicole in 2007, the school’s staff deemed it appropriate that she use the communal girls’ room (with separate stalls for each user) when she entered fifth grade at Orono’s Asa Adams School.

That’s when Melanson – who, in addition to serving as his grandson’s legal guardian, became the boy’s grand puppeteer – took matters into his own hands.

Following Grandpa’s orders, the boy began stalking Nicole and calling her homophobic names. Twice, he followed her into the girls’ room, claiming that if Nicole was allowed in there, he should be, too.

The lowest of the low points: When his grandson was suspended for misbehavior, Melanson actually filed a complaint in 2008 with the Maine Human Rights Commission. He claimed (unsuccessfully, of course) that the boy’s rights had been violated and even stood by proudly at a news conference as the boy parroted to the assembled media: “I got discriminated against.”

Cue the hysteria. Nicole was no longer allowed to use the communal girls’ room. And, upon her advancement to sixth grade at Orono Middle School, administrators turned their backs on years of careful, compassionate planning and relegated her – and her alone – to the staff bathroom.

Her family filed its own complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. And won.

The family then sued RSU 26 in Superior Court in Bangor. Justice William Anderson ruled in favor of the school district.

(Continued on page 2)

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