June 7, 2011
AUGUSTA – House Democrats today defeated a measure that would restrict Maine transgender people from using the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. The bill was rejected in a vote of 61-81.
“This is a victory for human rights and for transgender people in Maine,” said Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, the House Democratic leader, who spoke on the floor against the measure.
Cain recounted the experience of transgender students in her district, who said passing the law would send a message to the transgender community that they were not equal citizens worthy of protection.
The bill was initiated following a case involving Cain’s transgender constituent, “Nicole,” went before the Human Rights Commission after her school forced her to use a separate bathroom. The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that Orono Middle School unlawfully discriminated against a sixth-grader during the 2008-2009 school year by not letting the male-to-female transgender student use the girls’ bathroom.
“This bill would have put “Nicole” in jeopardy every time she went to school, the movies, or the mall -- simply for using the bathroom,” said Cain. “Our communities should be tolerant and welcoming. We do not need a consensus approach to human rights.”
The bill would have stated that a restriction of access to bathrooms based on the biological sex of transgender people is not ‘unlawful public accommodations discrimination.’ The clause creates a defense to a complaint under the Maine Human Rights Act.
“It is a bad idea to unravel the Maine Human Rights Act in response to an unjustified fear,” said Rep. Charlie Priest of Brunswick, who serves as the lead House Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “There are no reports of transgender people committing crimes in bathrooms.”
Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland added, “It is far more likely that transgender people would be victims of assault, not perpetrators.”
Nearly 20 states now have transgender nondiscrimination laws in place.
“All Mainers should be able to use the bathroom in comfort and safety,” said Rep. Megan Rochelo, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Meaghan Maloney of Augusta, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, raised concerns that the measure sent mixed messages to the business community. “I’ve heard from businesses on Water Street and they are worried about the impact this will have – will they now have to police the bathrooms?”
The bill faces more votes in the Maine Senate in the coming days.
Jodi Quintero [Cain, Hinck, Priest, Maloney, Rochelo], 287-1488, c. 841-6279