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 February 25, 2014)
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.”122
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.123 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.124 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.
Does Maine have an anti-bullying law that protects public school students?
Yes. In 2012 Maine passed a law, “An Act To Prohibit Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools.”125 The Act defines bullying as any communication (written, oral or electronic) or physical act or gesture that:
- harms or seriously threatens you or your property;
- creates a hostile school environment; or
- interferes with your academic performance or ability to participate in school activities.
The law identifies certain characteristics that are often a target for bullying, including actual or perceived race sexual orientation or gender identity and expression or association with another person with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.
By January 1, 2013, the Maine Department of Education must develop a model policy that must include:
- A requirement that school staff report bullying and procedures for school staff, students, parents and others to report bullying;
- A procedure for promptly investigating and responding to incidents of bullying, including written documentation of incidents and the outcome of investigations;
- A process for communicating with the parent(s) of a student who has been bullied the measures taken to ensure the safety of the student and to prevent further acts of bullying;
- Each school’s anti-bullying policy must be as stringent as the model policy and must be widely published and disseminated in written form annually to all students, parents and staff.
- Each school shall provide staff training in the best approaches to implementing the anti-bully policy.
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.
- 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.126 PFLAG estimates that over 20 Southern Maine high schools have GSAs.
In addition to GSAs, over 200 schools (including elementary schools) have “Civil Rights Teams” that work to reduce bias language and the behaviors that lead to threats and violence. These collaborations of students, faculty, and community advisors teach intervention strategies and peer education to reduce intolerance of all types and build an understanding of the Maine Civil Rights Act (discussed earlier in this publication). Additional information is available from the Attorney General’s office.127
Protect Your Rights
Call: (800) 455-GLAD (4523)
Email or Live Chat:
Maine Human Rights Commission
Maine Department of Education
Voice: (207) 624-6600
US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS
The text of the Maine anti-bullying law: http://bit.ly/mainebullylaw
GLAD’s Maine students’ rights webpage: http://bit.ly/mestudentrights
GLAD’s webpage on student rights: http://bit.ly/gladstudentrights
LOCAL LGBTQ YOUTH GROUPS
Proud Rainbow Youth of Southern Maine (PRYSM)
(207) 874-1022 X222
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Network (GLSEN)
Downeast Maine Chapter
Southern Maine Chapter
Out As I Want to Be
OTHER RESOURCES YOU CAN USE
Maine HIV Prevention Community Planning Group
(207) 622-7566 X233
Frannie Peabody Center
HIV Testing Tel: (207) 749-6818
Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV)
(866) 83-4HELP (HelpLine); (207) 430-8334 (general)
Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA)
GLAD has a brochure that summarizes the rights of students in Maine called, Want to Know Your Rights As an LGBTQ Student?, that can be found at: http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/lgbtq-studentrights-me.pdf. We would be pleased to mail you a printed version of the brochure, just contact GLAD Answers, http://www.GLADAnswers.org.
122 5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4553 (2) (A) (definition of “educational institution”).
123 5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4611.
124 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.
125 Available at: http://www.glad.org/work/cases/west-high-gsa-v-manchester-school-district/.
126 Available at: http://glad.org/GLAD_Cases/Manchester_GSA.pdf.
127 Available at: http://www.maine.gov/ag/crime/crimes_we_prosecute/civil_rights/in_schools/civil_rights_teams.shtml .