Students' Rights in Maine
Maine law forbids discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Questions & Answers (Accurate as of December 15, 2009)
Are there any laws protecting gay, lesbian and transgender students in Maine?
Yes. The state anti-discrimination law specifically protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression, in any academic, extracurricular, athletic, research, occupational training or other program or activity. It also protects students during the admissions process and in obtaining financial aid. The law defines “educational institution” as:
“any public school or educational program, any public post-secondary institution, any private school or educational program approved for tuition purposes if both male and female students are admitted and the governing body of each such school or program. For purposes related to disability-related discrimination, ‘educational institution’ also means any private school or educational program approved for tuition purposes.”125
The complainant must file a complaint with the MHRC within 6 months. The MHRC will conduct the same type of investigation as it does in other types of discrimination cases.126 See the employment section in this booklet for more information about this process.
Are there other laws which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?
Under federal law, public schools which receive federal funds may not discriminate on the basis of sex. Sometimes, the harassment of a LGBT student will be sexual harassment forbidden by this federal law, known as Title IX. Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to the federal Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights, in Boston.127 In addition, inaction in the face of pervasive harassment or discrimination can violate a student’s rights under the state and federal constitutions.
What can I do if I’m being discriminated against at school?
There are many ways to approach the issue. One is to ask for support from a friend, teacher or counselor and talk to the people who are bothering you. That is not an option, however, if you don’t feel safe doing so.
Take a look at your school policies and notify whoever is supposed to be notified — usually a vice principal or Title IX coordinator. You should document any incidents of harassment or discrimination in writing with at least the date and time. Once you meet with the right officials, write yourself notes about what you told them and on what date and ask when they will be getting back to you with a response. If they don’t help you or don’t follow through, you may wish to write to the principal and superintendent and ask for them to end the discrimination.
At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may contact the State Dept. of Education for further information at (207) 624-6747 (ask for the Affirmative Action Officer). If this fails, you may also wish to consider legal action against the town. This is a complicated area of law as well as being emotionally challenging. Contact GLAD for further information and attorney referrals.
In addition to the right to attend school in safety and free from discrimination and harassment based on your sexual orientation or gender identity or expression:
- LGBTQ youth must have equal access to and be allowed to participate on equal terms in all school programs, including extracurricular activities.
- Schools must respect the gender identity of transgender students, including using appropriate names and pronouns, and allowing transgender students to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity.
- LGBTQ youth have the right to acknowledge their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
- Students have the right to form extracurricular groups, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, on the same terms and with the same privileges and resources as all other extracurricular groups.
- LGBTQ students have the right to express themselves on issues relating to sexual orientation or gender identity and expression within constitutional limits.
- Students have the right to learn about LGBT issues and have access to pedagogically and age appropriate information and resources about LGBT issues and people, regardless of objecting school officials or parents.
For additional information and resources see GLAD’s publication, Rights of LGBTQ Youth in Maine.
Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?
Most student-initiated groups should be allowed to form. A federal law known as the Equal Access Act provides that secondary school students in schools that 1)receive federal funding, and 2)have extra-curricular groups, must allow students to form other extra-curricular groups without discriminating based on the religious, philosophical, political or other content of the speech at meetings. GLAD brought and won a case for students seeking to form a Gay Straight Alliance at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis.128 PFLAG estimates that over 20 Southern Maine high schools have GSAs.
In addition to GSAs, more than 150 elementary, middle level, and high schools have student civil rights teams that work to increase school safety by reducing bias behaviors and harassment. These civil rights teams are supported by the Civil Rights Team Project in Maine’s Office of the Attorney General.
For a list of Maine schools with active civil rights teams click here. For more information on civil rights teams and the Civil Rights Team Project, visit: www.maine.gov/ag/civil_rights.
125 5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4553 (2) (A) (definition of “educational institution”).
126 5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4611.
127 Office for Civil Rights, Boston Office, U.S. Department of Education, 33 Arch Street, Suite 900, Boston, MA 02110-1491, (617) 289-0111; FAX# (617) 289-0150, http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html?src=rt.
128 Available at: http://www.glad.org/work/cases/west-high-gsa-v-manchester-school-district/.