|Trans Day, Maine State House, March 31, 2016|
Sunday, April 3, 2016
This past Thursday I was one of the featured speakers for a press conference at the first-ever, Trans Day at the Maine State House. Below are the remarks I shared to an audience of supporters, curious legislators and lobbyists, and members of the beautiful trans community in Maine.
My name is Gia Drew, and I am Program Director at EqualityMaine, a statewide organization that has been working to secure full equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Mainers since 1984. I also serve as president of the board of directors of Maine Transgender Network, an organization that provides support, education and resources for the transgender community across the state.
As a transgender woman, just five years removed from publicly embracing my trans identity, I’m honored and slightly overwhelmed to have been asked to speak this morning at the first ever, TRANS DAY at the Maine State House.
I do want sure to thank the organizers from Maine Transgender Lobby for bringing this event to life on this Transgender Day of Visibility. It is truly a magical day.
On this last day of March, I want to call attention to Maine’s record in advancing equality. Our state motto “Dirigo” which translated, means “I lead” is fitting. Not only does America’s day begin in Maine, but we have lead the nation in ensuring that everyone who lives and/or visits this beautiful state feels safe and welcome in every aspect of their life. In 2005, Maine was one of first states in the nation to extended anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation as a protected class, which as defined in the Maine Human Rights Act, to include gender identity and expression. This law protects Mainers like me, against discrimination in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, and credit.
Soon after the Maine Human Rights Act was passed, state agencies went to work and updated policies, regulations, and procedures to not only reflect the new law but also provide necessary guidance on how to interpret the law in their specific area. Unfortunately, rules and guidelines related to education never came to light, leaving school districts to interpret the law on their own, some did so with satisfactory results, others did nothing, and so we’re left with a patchwork of policies and procedures that vary drastically from one school to the next, leaving educators and administrators in the dark on how to follow a law passed eleven years ago.
In 2014, the Maine Supreme Court affirmed the rights of a transgender student, Nicole Maines, affording her all the rights of other girls at her school. This past year, both the Maine Human Rights Commission and Department of Education finally created guidelines for schools to follow which would have given educators and administrators the tools needed to better support LGBT students, and addressing the needs and the safety of transgender students.
Unfortunately, those guidelines, which were ready for public comment this winter, needed the Governor’s signature to move forward on a procedural step. He declined to act, and in doing so, left schools, educators, administrators, parents, and students out in the cold.
In the aftermath of the Governor’s decision, The Maine Human Rights Commission published a memo that includes interpretations of the law in relation to supporting transgender students. While this is a great step forward, and the interpretations are thorough and adhere to best practices, it’s not enough. Maine educators, parents, and students deserve more respect from our Governor, not the cold shoulder they received instead.