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In The News - National

Maine Legislature Spurns Transgender Bill

From the Maine Sun Journal:

By Steve Mistler, Staff Writer – Jun 08, 2011 8:45 am

AUGUSTA — The Legislature has moved decisively against a controversial bill that would have prevented transgender individuals from filing complaints against schools and other public institutions for restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms.

Passage of LD 1046 was rejected by the House, 61-81, in a late Tuesday night vote that saw 15 Republicans break with the Democratic minority. On Wednesday the Senate voted 11-23 against the bill’s passage.

The bill had been prompted by a highly publicized case involving an Orono elementary school student that reached the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the bill’s sponsor, served on the commission during the case. Fredette said Tuesday that the legislation was designed to address privacy concerns of those uncomfortable with sharing a restroom with an individual born of the opposite sex.

Fredette, speaking from the floor, said current law put all of the power into the hands of the transgender individual filing the complaint.

Opponents said the bill was discriminatory and removed protections from a community often targeted or misunderstood for being different. They also rejected some assertions that there were sexual motives attached to transgender individuals’ access to public bathrooms of the opposite sex.

Rep. Charlie Priest, D-Brunswick, said the individuals “don’t want to stand out,” they only want to be accepted by the gender with which they identify.

“It is a bad idea to unravel the Maine Human Rights Act in response to an unjustified fear,” Priest said.

Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader, spoke about the high-profile Orono case. The case involved a fifth-grader at Asa Adams School who was born a boy but identified with girls.

School officials originally allowed the student to use the girls’ restroom, but that changed after the grandfather of a boy complained and insisted that his grandson be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, too.

The transgender individual was told to use a private bathroom, prompting the parents to file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Cain, speaking from the floor, said the case forced the child and her parents to leave Orono and that the child had gone “stealth” because she is afraid she will be discovered and targeted.

Fredette said he was disappointed that some members were willing to dismiss the other side’s concerns. He said his bill simply made it so transgendered parents can’t sue public institutions.

He said “all the power is in the hands” of the transgender individual.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham, said the bill was “mean-spirited” and could lead to a slew of lawsuits.

“It seems to be brought forward by the last bastion of bigotry and hatred,” Bartlett said. “Let’s stand up together and say no.”

Fredette’s bill originally included a provision making it so transgender individuals could not sue private establishments, such as restaurants, for restricting access to public restrooms over privacy concerns.

That provision, stricken before Tuesday’s floor debate, was based on a case involving Lewiston’s Brianna Freeman, a transgender woman who was denied access to a restroom at a Denny’s restaurant in Auburn.

The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled in 2009 that Freeman was discriminated against because Denny’s management wouldn’t let her use the ladies’ room until she had a sex change.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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