25,000 Support Six-Year-Old Trans Girl Facing Discrimination
The family of transgender six-year-old Coy Mathis is standing firm in their refusal to return Coy to Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain, Colorado unless the school allows her to use the girls' bathroom like the rest of the girls in her first-grade class.
"Coy is not a boy, she is not an adult, and she is not sick," the Mathises wrote in the Change.org petition they started urging the school district to reconsider its decision. The petition has received more than 25,000 signatures in support of Coy and her family.
Before December 2012, Coy's school respected her desire to be identified as a girl; staff and students have referred to her using female pronouns, and she has been allowed to use the girls' bathroom without incident. But before winter break, Coy's parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, were informed that after the break Coy would no longer be permitted in the girls' bathroom. Henceforth her options would be the boys' bathroom, a staff bathroom for adults, or the nurse's bathroom.
On Feb. 15, the Mathises filed a complaint against the Fountain-Fort Carson School District with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights. The district has until Mar. 17 to respond to the complaint, and has refused mediation in addressing the issue. Until the complaint is resolved, Coy's parents have removed her from Eagleside and are home-schooling her, but they hope to have her back in school before much more time has passed.
Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and one of the Mathis' lawyers, is optimistic about the outcome of the complaint.
"There is no question in Colorado law," he said. "The law bans discrimination against trans people, and that applies to access to facilities like schools. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has issued rules that interpret the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, and one of the regulations states that trans people must be allowed to use the bathroom that matches who they are."
Indeed, Colorado’s legal protections for transgender people are among the strongest in the nation. Some Colorado school districts, including Boulder Valley Schools, have already created transgender-specific policies based on the Civil Rights Commission’s rules.
"The Colorado GSA Network, a program of One Colorado, has worked in recent years to successfully pass a comprehensive statewide anti-bullying policy and empower thousands of LGBT and allied students," said Brad Clark, executive director of the LGBT advocacy organization One Colorado. "With the help of education leaders, Colorado has clear laws the prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in our schools. We look forward to ensuring those laws are upheld."
The Mathis’ complaint has created a whirlwind of media coverage as transgender Coloradans, along with their families and allies, wait to see what precedent will be created.
"This is the first test of Colorado’s anti-discrimination act with respect to access to appropriate bathrooms," said Silverman, "but it also fits into a larger national context, where one state looks to the next to see how these issues are handled. A positive outcome here will have a wide impact for trans children and trans people in general."
Dr. Sarah Burgamy, a psychologist who specializes in working with LGBT children, agrees that the complaint is important for reasons that go beyond Coy and her family.
"I’m looking at the education aspect as a real positive," said Burgamy. "We need to discuss what everybody’s hangup is about the bathroom. Why is there discomfort about letting children use the bathroom that matches who they are? Offering something like the nurse’s restroom or the staff bathroom, a separate-but-equal option, gives a child the message that, hey, you’re different and you’re being treated differently."
"Being singled out can have a very negative impact on children," said Silverman. "Coy is only six, and what she understands is simply that her school is being mean to her. For any child, being the target of discrimination is upsetting and confusing. We want to educate the public about this issue, so that people will want to do the right thing, instead of having to do the right thing. It’s not too late for the school to do the right thing for Coy, and to teach a powerful lesson to the other students in the school and everyone who is watching about tolerance and respect and fair play."
"Right now, Coy is the face of transgender children," said Burgamy. "The family took a brave step to stand up for the civil rights of their child, but they’re in for quite a ride. Any time a child finds herself in the limelight, it’s hard to say how a child will cope with that kind of pressure. Coy has a very loving and supportive family, and that bodes well for her."
To sign the Change.org petition, click here.