On June 5, 2009, the Maine Human Rights Commission rules that there are reasonable grounds to move forward with the Maineses’ suit against the Orono school district. The Commission recommends “conciliation,” which is what Kelly and Wayne want—for Nicole to be integrated into the school in the way other girls were.
The initial ruling helps to validate the Maineses’ opinion that the school was complicit in discrimination against Nicole and that the best solution is to stop separating Nicole from her peers and treating her unequally.
While they wait, the Maines family learns that Wayne’s father, Bill, was hurt in an accident in which his clothes caught on fire. He was unable to recover from his burns. The family attends the funeral together, and Nicole thinks of all the good memories she has of her grandfather. But she is saddened by the fact that he will never see her in “the body she was meant to have.”
Nicole’s grandfather’s death reminds her of the love and support that her family (including Bill) has always showed her, but also that she still doesn’t feel like her body fully belongs to her yet. This tragedy re-inspires her commitment to transitioning to a body that fully expresses her gender identity.
The school does not respond to the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation, and so the Maineses decide to file a civil lawsuit asserting claims for unlawful discrimination in education and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation. At the heart of the suit is the question of whether forcing Nicole to use a separate staff-only restroom is constitutional.
The fact that the school refuses to respond to the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation only further confirms its unwillingness to change discriminatory policies, which prompts additional legal action and gets GLAD involved in advocating for Nicole.
In the previous 10 years, laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity had been gaining traction. In 2015, 18 states prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender people, and 16 have fair housing laws that protect transgender people. Maine is one of those states.
Nutt reminds readers that society and the law are still in a state of transformation regarding transgender rights. More and more states affirm that it is illegal to discriminate based on gender identity as society begins to think of it not as a problem or an oddity but simply another aspect of a person’s being.
In June, Kelly has another face-to-face meeting with principal Bob Lucy. She asks what the arrangements will be for Nicole in seventh grade, knowing that the situation had become incredibly toxic. Lucy tells her that the situation will remain the same. Kelly tells him that they will likely have to move because of this. Lucy doesn’t respond, but simply smiles.
Lucy’s reaction to Kelly’s announcement that the Maineses will likely have to move essentially confirms his own prejudice, or at least his complicity in her harassment. He would rather Nicole leave the school and avoid controversy than implement policies to ensure her equal treatment.
Kelly starts to make plans to move to Portland, Maine, 140 miles south of Orono. No one in the family is particularly happy with the news, but they understand that the situation is untenable. Wayne can’t leave his job, however—finding another that is equally good seems impossible. And so, they decide to rent a small place in Portland for Kelly and the kids, while Wayne will remain in Orono for the work week. Suddenly, they feel like their lives are “in reverse.”
The Maineses’ decision to move, despite the fact that it will greatly complicate their lives, shows the extent of the discrimination and how toxic the situation at school has become. Additionally, it shows the unquestionable love among the family and for Nicole, that they decide her safety and well-being is worth uprooting their lives for.
What is worse, no one knows whether the situation will improve in Portland. Nicole and Jonas will go “stealth,” and only the principal and teachers at King Middle School will be told that Nicole is transgender. Nicole and Jonas will not be able to tell their new friends about the circumstances that have brought them there.
Nutt hints at one of the biggest struggles they will face in Portland: Nicole will be unable to be out and proud about her identity. Even though this is for her safety and to prevent further discrimination, it comes with its own drawbacks, as well, since she feels like she can’t be fully open with her friends.