Transgender first-grader Coy Mathis wins civil rights case in Colorado

DENVER — The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in favor of a transgender first-grader who was blocked from using the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school, the The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund announced Sunday.

Coy Mathis, 6, was the victim of discrimination when Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain refused to let her use the girl’s restroom, the ruling finds.

In issuing its decision, the state’s rights division said keeping the ban in place “creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.”

“Schools should not discriminate against their students, and we are thrilled that Coy can return to school and put this behind her,” Kathryn Mathis, Coy’s mother, said in a statement. “All we ever wanted was for Coy’s school to treat her the same as other little girls. We are extremely happy that she now will be treated equally.”

The Mathis family has since moved to Denver in order to attend to the medical needs of one of their other children, so Coy Mathis will now be attending a Denver school.

The first-grader has been home-schooled during the proceedings

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund said Sunday it would hold a press conference to discuss the matter on Monday.

For most of the past year, Coy has dressed as a girl.

Coy’s passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.

Mathis said she got a call “out of the blue” from the school in December saying that Coy could use the boys’ bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse’s bathroom, but not the girls’ facilities.

The district “took into account not only Coy, but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older,” a letter the family’s attorney received in December said.

“However, I’m certain you can appreciate that, as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.”

Transgender children are little-studied group

Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is based on their anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities, experts say.

For the general public, transgender identity may be a new concept, though many might recall Chaz Bono, the child of entertainers Sonny and Cher. Born female, Bono underwent a transition in his 40s to become a man. He wrote in his book “Transition” that, even as a child, he had been “aware of a part of me that did not fit.”

He appeared last year as a man on “Dancing with the Stars,” in part, he said, to destigmatize being transgender.

Comprehensive data and studies about transgender children are rare. International studies have estimated that anywhere from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000 people are transgender.

Some children as young as age 3 show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children say.

These children are not intersex — they do not have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though experts do not agree on whether it’s psychologically or physiologically based.

Many transgender people report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.

Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. The difference is that “gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.

Children around age 3 are probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children who look like they will be transgender in early childhood turn out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Differences in schools

School policies toward transgender students vary across the United States.

In New York, for example, the law says students can’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity.

But in Maine, a court ruled in November that a school district did not violate a transgender student’s rights when she was told she couldn’t use the girls’ bathroom.

Dude, the Colorado school district’s attorney, has said there is nothing in that state requiring public schools to permit transgender students to use restrooms intended for the gender with which they identify.

At the time, he argued that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District adheres to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act in all respects: “Coy attends class as all other students, is permitted to wear girls’ clothes and is referred to as the parents have requested.”