Rising Star: The Activist – The face and voice of a minority

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Nicole Maines, 17
Student, University of Maine

Nicole Maines’ Twitter feed – where Maines has been promoting the release of a new book – is frequently sprinkled with fan messages, including one that recently described her as beautiful and inspiring.

Released last month, “Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Amy Ellis Nutt, is a true story in which Maines, a transgender girl, is the heroine.

Maines, 17, is perhaps best known for a discrimination lawsuit her family filed against the Orono school district in 2009 – and ultimately won last year – after Maines, then a fifth-grader, was forced to use a unisex staff bathroom instead of the girls’ bathroom.

In early 2014, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that her school district violated the state Human Rights Act. It was the first time a state court decided that transgender people have the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.

Born as an identical twin boy – her brother is Jonas – Maines has identified as a female, favoring pink tutus over action figures, since age 2. After struggling to hide her self-identity for most of her childhood, Maines changed her name from Wyatt, her birth name, to Nicole in the fifth grade.

Maines had gender reassignment surgery this past summer and is now majoring in studio art as a freshman at the University of Maine. Maines has a passion for art and drawing, and aspires to become a video game designer after college.

But advocacy will always be a part of her life, she said. Her future plans include continuing to promote social change and striving to make a difference in her school and community.

Making nationwide history in the landmark transgender case will always be one of Maines’ proudest moments, she said, because it helped raise awareness about transgender issues in Maine and set a precedent for future transgender students.

“I have been given the opportunity to be the face of my minority – to be someone they can relate to, and see him or herself in,” said Maines, who labels herself a “trans activist.”

“Hopefully what people learn from this case is that trans people are to be held to the same standard as everyone else, and that we are not to be discriminated against; to be treated less than anybody, or different,” she said.

Her quest for equality has earned her awards, including the 2015 Samantha Smith Award from the Maine Women’s Fund, which recognizes a young woman who works to promote social change in her community. Maines was also named one of Glamour Magazine’s 50 inspiring women of the year in 2014 representing Maine, and was a guest star in an episode of USA Network’s “Royal Pains,” which aired in June.

In October, Maines and her family received the Spirit of Matthew Award during the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s 14th Annual Honors Gala at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado “for persevering together through all of the hardships,” Maines said.

“It was a family journey,” she said.

Maines is glad to be commended for her ability to display self-confidence despite the challenges, and is proud that others see her as a role model. She hopes that her story will help people understand what being transgender truly means and how it can impact a person’s life.

“Our gender is something we should be able to feel secure in,” said Maines, who is considering writing an autobiography about her journey.

Nicole Maines, far right, and her family, from left, her brother Jonas, mother Kelly, father Wayne, at Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth this summer.

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