Transgender Teen: Bathroom Equality Is a Civil Rights Issue

3 minute read
Kirsten Salyer is a writer and the former Deputy Editor of TIME Ideas

President Barack Obama wrote letters to public school districts Friday urging administrators to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. TIME spoke with the Maines family—Nicole, a transgender teen, her twin brother, Jonas, and their father, Wayne—about what they thought of the directive and what it was like for their family as Nicole transitioned.

“You need to be able to be someone who is not afraid to step up to the plate, and, you know, sort of mark that line in the sand and say we are a country that is for this, and we are for everyone,” Nicole said. “I really commend Obama for having that courage.”

Read more by Nicole Maines: I Am Proof That Bathrooms Should Be Gender-Free

The Maines won a landmark case in the Maine Supreme Court in 2014 against their school district for preventing Nicole from using the school’s student restrooms. Jonas said he couldn’t understand why people treated his sister differently.

“It was just years of having to try and explain this really simple thing of if someone feels that they are a a girl or a boy or whatever, they should be able to use the facilities that make them feel most comfortable.”

But the issue goes beyond bathrooms to a larger civil rights issue, Wayne said.

“The bathroom is a starting point for: you are now separated from your classmates,” he said. “And you don’t get an equal education.”

Read more by Wayne Maines: My Transgender Daughter Taught Me Courage—and Patriotism

Wayne said he had to change his views to accept Nicole’s transition.

“Anyone out there that has any child that has special needs or whatever, you love your kids and if you’re smart enough and you love them enough, you change yourself,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve got to do. I had to live this to understand it. I can’t wait for American to live it to understand it. That’s why we’re here. It’s too long, and too many kids are suffering.”

The first step is being willing to listen, Nicole said.

“It’s OK not to understand the whole trans thing,” she said. “That’s alright. My dad didn’t understand it. I still don’t know everything. What’s important is you sort of educate yourself on your own time, but you have to respect it on everyone else’s time. Because no one should have to wait for equality.”

Watch the whole conversation here.

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