The High Price of Equality
Written by Winter Trabex.
In 2009, when in the fifth grade, transgender student Nichole Maines might not have imagined that the Orono School District’s decision to make her use the staff bathroom would eventually result in a monetary settlement of any kind, much less 75,000 dollars.
School districts, especially public school districts, operate more or less at the mercy of any potential concern a parent may have. The Maines decision represents perfectly the problem every school district faces: parents can take the school to court and be awarded a sum of money for their time and trouble. The situation could have just as easily have been just as bad for the school, though in another way: a parent who doesn’t like a transgender girl using the same bathroom with their cisgender daughter could cause trouble for the school’s administrators.
Even if a court case were not pursued, the parents of the cisgender daughter could get together with some like-minded parents and hold demonstrations. They could talk to the media, write editorials, let the full extent of their feelings be known to the world.
There really is no course that such a school district could take that would make everyone happy all of the time. The Orono School District’s solution was to find a middle course. They had Nichole Maines use the staff bathroom.
Rather than look at the positives (such as no bullying in the bathroom), or simply wait it out until graduation, or anything else, Nichole’s wish has only ever wanted to be treated like everyone else. She wanted to be treated as a woman, not as a transgender student.
Well and good. Except that those who brought the lawsuit forward on her behalf (let’s not kid ourselves, a fifth-grader isn’t thinking about suing anybody) didn’t consider the slow progress that ideas make within administrative bodies. New ideas are like fine wines, or well-aged cheeses- so long as there’s no safety issue involved. An issue such as civil rights, that takes a while to develop.
The reason for this is simple. Administrative bodies everywhere across the world have developed processes that allow them run their operations smoothly. They believe in policy and procedure. After all, there’s a chain of command involved. A first-year teacher isn’t allowed to make a judgment call as to whether a transgender female student gets to use a female bathroom. That kind of decision has to be made at the highest level.
In other words, administrators by and large believe they have a monopoly on wisdom. This is especially true in public organizations that either receives public funding and/or are bound heavily by government regulation. All those restrictions make it difficult for any decision to be made unilaterally. Lawyers must be consulted. If the lawyer is giving bad advice to school (as often happens), then the school, for all their good intentions, will make bad decisions.
None of this appears to have registered with the Boston-based group, Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. In this case, so far as it is being reported, no active discrimination appears to have occurred. The doctrine of “separate is not equal” doesn’t apply when the question is where someone is allowed to urinate. The only concern everyone had throughout the whole process has been to achieve some measure of equality.
Rather than working with the Orono School District to find a solution, or putting Nichole Maines in a private school, or having her homeschooled or tutored, the Maines family instead engaged in a five-year long lawsuit. Given all the work that is required at each stage of the process, it seems clear that the school district lost more in legal fees than the settlement itself.
The settlement also does not guarantee any transgender student in America will be made to use a staff bathroom or is given any other unusual accommodation while a group of administrators works out what new policies they want to have. It doesn’t guarantee that active discrimination will not occur anywhere else towards any other student.
There is also no way to tell whether 75,000 dollars is the price that the school district must pay for societal equality. There is no indication of whether the gay rights movement- such as it is- is achieving social parity though a series of lawsuits. In the 1950’s, the NAACP engaged in a series of lawsuits aimed at achieving racial equality. Over sixty years later, those lawsuits have amounted to nothing while racism remains rampant, most especially within state agencies. Though the decision to award Maines with a cash settlement may make her feel better, in the long run, it may not do anything at all to further the cause of her being treated like a normal, average human being.
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