So holds today’s Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision in Doe v. Regional School Unit 26, as to a fifth-grade student who is biologically male but identifies and dresses as a girl. Maine law bans discrimination in places of public accommodation based on “sexual orientation,” which includes “gender identity or expression.” The court held that this means that transgender people were entitled to use the restrooms appropriate to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.
Maine law requires schools to provide restrooms “[s]eparated according to sex and accessible only by separate entrances and exits.” The court, though, concluded that this doesn’t affect the analysis under the public accommodations statute:
Because [the school bathroom statute] does not mandate, or even suggest, the manner in which transgender students should be permitted to use sex-separated facilities, each school is left with the responsibility of creating its own policies concerning how these public accommodations are to be used. Those policies must comply with the [antidiscrimination law]….
[W]e do not suggest that any person could demand access to any school facility or program based solely on a self-declaration of gender identity or confusion without the plans developed in cooperation with the school and the accepted and respected diagnosis that are present in this case. Our opinion must not be read to require schools to permit students casual access to any bathroom of their choice. Decisions about how to address students’ legitimate gender identity issues are not to be taken lightly. Where, as here, it has been clearly established that a student’s psychological well-being and educational success depend upon being permitted to use the communal bathroom consistent with her gender identity, denying access to the appropriate bathroom constitutes sexual orientation discrimination in violation of the [public accommodations law].
Justice Mead’s dissent disagreed, reasoning that,
The statutory directive to segregate bathrooms in schools by sex, and providing for separate entrances and exits for those bathrooms, clearly anticipates that the use of a bathroom would be restricted to the sex for which it has been designated…. The plain language of the provisions of [the school bathroom statute] and the [antidiscrimination statute] are in conflict, and I believe that principles of comity require us to defer to the representative branch of government to resolve the issue.
Chief Justice Saufley’s concurrence agreed with the majority, but noted an important point that the dissent also mentioned:
[T]he Court has concluded, as it must based on the statutes, that discrimination in the public accommodation of communal bathrooms is prohibited based on sexual orientation. The statute requiring that result also prohibits discrimination based simply on “sex.” Thus, the next logical step given the Court’s inevitable interpretation of the existing statute is, as the dissent points out, the assertion that access to the public accommodation of designated communal bathrooms cannot be denied based on a person’s sex.
Put simply, it could now be argued that it would be illegal discrimination for a restaurant, for example, to prohibit a man from using the women’s communal bathroom, and vice versa. I agree with the dissent that it is highly unlikely that the Legislature actually intended that result. Accordingly, on this matter of public policy, it would benefit the public for the Legislature to act quickly to address the concern raised by the dissent in this matter.
Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.