After an emotional discussion about inclusion and equity for all students, the Portland School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a comprehensive new policy that affirms and protects transgender and gender-expansive students in Portland schools.

Gender expansive is a term used to describe people whose gender expression and identity goes beyond what is perceived as expected gender norms. Gia Drew of Equality Maine was part of a large group of school board members. students, teachers, parents, advocates and attorneys who worked on the policy over the past seven months.

“Having grown up as a bisexual, transgender person and not having any support, I probably never thought there would be a place and a time where schools would be voting on a policy that would affirm my identity,” Drew said. “And having been a teacher for 20 years and having to teach and hiding most of that time, I, of course, thought this would never happen. And so here we are, and I think this is going to be a great beacon to other schools across the state.”

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Among other things the policy allows students to use restrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity, allows them to use the pronouns they prefer, calls for gender-neutral student dress codes and requires annual training around gender issues for teachers and staff.

The policy is consistent with Maine law that requires non-discrimination in schools.

School Superintendent Xavier Botana said as someone raised in a traditional Latino family he couldn’t have imagined supporting the policy 20 years ago but has re-examined his misconceptions. Now, he says, he’s proud of it, and so are most of the people he’s heard from.

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“You know, mostly we’ve heard really positive — you saw really positive comments today,” Botana said. “You know, we’ve gotten some not so positive comments — not, frankly, from people from Portland, but from people in other parts of the country who’ve heard about it and have chosen to react in ways that suggest they know what we should do better than the people in Portland do.”

The policy was drafted by a group of school board members, parents, teachers, students and advocates over the past seven months.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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