Transgender First-Grader Wins Right to Use Girls’ Room

Posted July 11, 2013 in Gay and Lesbian issues by

A civil rights panel in Colorado found that a school district wrongfully discriminated against a transgender student by denying her access to the girls’ restroom.

Coy Mathis, a first-grader formerly enrolled in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District, has identified as a girl for years. Although Coy was biologically born a boy, she is identified as female in her passport, recent medical forms and other identifying documents.

Coy’s grade school initially agreed to treat her as any other female student. She arrived at school dressed in girls’ clothing, her teachers addressed her as a girl and she was allowed to use the girls’ restroom. But last December, during the holiday break, the district informed Coy’s parents that she would no longer be allowed to use the same bathroom as the other girls.

The district ordered Coy to use the boys’ bathroom, faculty restrooms or the nurse’s bathroom instead.


School Environment ‘Hostile, Intimidating, Offensive’

According to CNN, the district sent the family a letter that said, “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.”

The Colorado Civil Rights Division, with which Coy’s parents filed a complaint, didn’t appreciate the district’s position. The division specifically likened the district’s actions to the “separate but equal” policies of the Jim Crow era and said it created “an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.”

The division’s ruling was filed under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which specifically prohibits discrimination based on transgender status. The decision chastised the district’s approach to “compartmentalizing a child as a boy or a girl solely based on their visible anatomy” as a “simplistic approach to a difficult and complex issue.”

Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the decision is a “high-water mark” in the transgender rights movement. Silverman filed the complaint on behalf of Coy’s parents.

“By denying Coy the right to use the little girls restroom like all the other little girls at school it had created an environment that was hostile, discriminatory and unsafe,” Silverman told CNN. “Coy was treated in what was referred to as an exceptional way, which limited her educational opportunities. In the end, we’ve been saying from the start, that Coy wants the same dignity, respect and opportunity, and deserves that, as every other student in Colorado. The state of Colorado has now said that’s exactly what she deserves.”


Transgender Rights Tested in Courts

While Coy’s case was a victory for transgender rights, it was a victory made possible by Colorado’s inclusion of transgender status in its anti-discrimination code. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, transgender discrimination is prohibited in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. Some of these jurisdictions prohibit transgender discrimination more broadly than others.

Attention now turns to Maine, where the state’s high court recently heard arguments in another case concerning a transgender student’s bathroom rights. Nicole Maines, now a 15-year-old high school student, was asked to use the staff bathroom at her elementary school after the grandfather of a male student complained about Maines using the girls’ restroom.

The Maine Human Rights Act prohibits transgender discrimination, but another state law also requires separate bathrooms for boys and girls in schools. Maines’ family and the Maine Human Rights Commission sued in 2009, but a state judge initially ruled in favor of the school district.

After the Maine Supreme Court hearing in June, Maine told the Associated Press she hopes the district understands “how important it is for students to be able to go to school and get an education and have fun and make friends, and not have to worry about being bullied by students or the administration, and to be accepted for who they are.”

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