Youth | Schools | Maine
How does the Maine anti-discrimination law apply to education?
Maine law applies to both public and private schools and makes the following discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation unlawful:
- to exclude a person from, deny a person the benefits of, or subject a person to discrimination in any academic, extracurricular, research, occupational training or other program or activity;
- to deny a person equal opportunity in athletic programs;
- to deny admission to the institution or program or fail to provide equal access to any information about an institution or program;
- to deny financial assistance availability and opportunity (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4602).
Are any educational institutions exempt from the law?
Yes. Any educational facility owned, controlled or operated by “a bona fide religious corporation, association or society” is exempt (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4602).
Are there any laws protecting LGBTQ+ 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” (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4553 (2) (A) (definition of “educational institution”)).
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 (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4611).
Are there other laws which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?
Possibly. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination in public schools that receive federal funding. Depending on the situation, harassment of LGBTQ+ students may be actionable as sex discrimination (See, e.g., Ray v. Antioch Unified School District, 107 F. Supp. 2d 1165 (N.D. Cal. 2000) (stating that attacks based on a student’s perceived sexuality constitute sex discrimination)). Harassment of transgender students in particular is actionable. Several federal courts have held that the federal anti-discrimination law, Title IX, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity (See, e.g., Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Bd. of Educ., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9362 (7th Cir. 2017); cf. Bd. of Educ. v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131474 (S.D. Ohio 2016)).
Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to:
Office of Civil Rights
The U.S. Department of Education
John W. McCormack Post Office & Courthouse, Room 222
Post Office Square
Boston, MA 02109
Additionally, some kinds of discrimination and harassment may violate a student’s constitutional rights.
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.
What are my other rights as a public school student in Maine?
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 LGBTQ+ issues and have access to pedagogically and age appropriate information and resources about LGBTQ+ issues and people, regardless of objecting school officials or parents.
For additional information and resources see GLAD’s publication, Rights of LGBT Students in Maine.
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” (available at: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_125th/chapters/PUBLIC659.asp).
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.
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