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4/23/2014 2:00:00 PM
Diversity Celebrated at Wiscasset High School
Laughter breaks out when Jen Gonzalez (standing) asks freshman Kayla Bott to touch the shunt that remains in her skull for a life-time treatment of hydrocephalus. (Kathy Onorato photo)
Laughter breaks out when Jen Gonzalez (standing) asks freshman Kayla Bott to touch the shunt that remains in her skull for a life-time treatment of hydrocephalus. (Kathy Onorato photo)
By Kathy Onorato

Wiscasset High School's Diversity Day on April 18 was highlighted by a father's plea to students for help with protecting the rights of his transgender daughter.

To a captive audience of students and staff, an often emotional Wayne Maines shared his challenges of raising a transgender child.

Maines said his daughter officially changed her name from Wyatt to Nicole in the fifth grade. She was loving school at this time and feeling confident, Maines said. She was the vice-president of her class and she loved acting.

Controversy soon began when Nicole began using the girls' bathroom. Complaints from the community forced school administrators to stop Nicole from using the girls bathroom, and instead, she was asked to use the staff restroom. Eventually the Maine Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nicole's right to use the girls' bathroom.

However, for years following the publicity, Nicole was bullied, harassed, stalked and discriminated against, Maines said.

Maines said his daughter came home from school one day and asked him, 'Daddy, why am I being punished?' Maines said she said to him, 'Daddy fix this.'

The situation became so bad Maines told Nicole's twin brother Jonas, to do whatever was necessary to protect his sister.

Jonas told students he always kept an eye on his sister and on occasion, exerted a little force to protect her.

"I'd like to think I won," Jonas told the student body.

Maines said he tells his story to hopefully get people to understand the right of transgender children to feel safe in school and be provided the same opportunities for success in education as their classmates.

"I worry about the safety and future of my daughter every day," Maines said.

Maines said studies indicate children who are bullied, harassed and discriminated against develop anxiety, low self-esteem, inflict harm on themselves, and even commit suicide.

"I vow that's not going to happen to my child," Maines said.

Maines thanked the students for their generation's willingness to becoming a more accepting society and urged them to continue to help change the attitude of others.

"To promote change you have to get involved," Maines said.

Now in high school, both Jonas and Nicole attend Waynflete School in Portland.

"We are grateful for this community. It has accepted my sister for who she is," Jonas said.

Jen Gonzalez, the twin sister of Wiscasset High School Principal Deb Taylor, has been living with what she calls an "invisible disability." She doesn't get around in a wheel nor walk on crutches, but lives with a brain injury that has forever changed her life.

In her mid-20s, Gonzalez had a snowboard accident which left her with the serious condition called hydrocephalus, which is a build-up of fluid in the brain.

"So don't snowboard without a helmet," Gonzalez said.

To treat Gonzalez's hydrocephalus, a shunt system had been placed to take the fluid from her brain into another area of her body where it can be absorbed. Gonzalez said she has had nearly 60 surgeries to make adjustments to this manual drainage system, which is part of her body for the rest of her life.

As a result of this condition, Gonzalez doesn't remember many parts of her life such as her wedding or the birth of her daughter. She said as she looks at photos, she is saddened by not being able to remember special times in her life.

"It's not a memory, it's a photo," Gonzales said.

Gonzalez, who works with people with autism, said sometime when she is writing on the board she forgets how to write. She has had to re-learn to do everything all over again. "Like ride a bike and not fall over," Gonzalez said.

Once right handed, Gonzalez demonstrated how she has had to learn to write using her left hand.

"I am working on accepting the way I am," she said.

The accident has slowed her down considerably, she said. She has come to realize what is important and what is not.

"The clothes I wear, or career advancement isn't as important to me as it once was," she said.

What is important Gonzalez said, is "having people around that accepts you when drool is running out the side of your mouth."

Gonzalez said she hates it when people say to her, 'you don't look disabled.'

"I have fought a good fight. Give me credit. I have a disability," she said.

Gonzalez said she respects the honesty of children. If they have a question - they ask, she said. Generally people are quick to judge people who walk or talk differently.

"It's okay to notice I'm different and ask why," Gonzalez said.

"You don't know the adversity people go through, so treat everyone kindly," Gonzales told students.

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