Not So Elementary: A Trans Student's Fight With Her School
A family in colorado has filed a complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission against the Fountain–Fort Carson school district, alleging an elementary school discriminated against a 6-year-old transgender girl when she was forbidden to use the girls’ bathroom after a year of doing so.
Coy Mathis is a first-grader enrolled at Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain, a suburb of Colorado Springs. Although Coy was assigned as male at birth, she has identified as female since she was 18 months old. Coy dresses in girls’ clothing, and teachers, classmates, and her family use female pronouns to refer to her.
Since 2011, when she was in kindergarten, Coy has been using the girls’ bathroom at Eagleside without incident. But last December Eagleside principal Jason Crow informed her parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, that their daughter would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. Coy could only use the boys’ bathroom, a staff bathroom, or a single-stall restroom in the health center.
Kathryn Mathis says that when she and her husband challenged Crow on the reasoning behind the sudden policy change, the administrator had no coherent response.
“The first inkling of an answer we got was when their lawyers responded [to the initial request],” says Mathis. She calls the district’s written response “heartbreaking” and says school district lawyers repeatedly referred to Coy as a boy, used male pronouns to describe her, and even discussed how “as she gets older, how her male genitals are going to grow—which isn’t appropriate at all for them to be discussing, because they’re a school system, not her doctor.”
The Mathises have been homeschooling her since classes resumed January 2. Mathis says Coy is educationally stable but misses her friends and teachers at school. “Socially, it’s been a big setback,” she says.
“By forcing Coy to use a different bathroom than all the other girls, Coy’s school is targeting her for stigma, bullying, and harassment,” said Michael Silverman, executive director of Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and one of Coy’s lawyers, in a statement.
Since 2008, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act has prohibited gender identity–based discrimination in public accommodation. On December 26, TLDEF sent a letter to school district superintendent Cheryl Serrano explaining as much.
“CADA defines ‘public accommodation’ to include ‘an educational institution’ like Eagleside,” reads the letter. “It defines ‘sexual orientation’ to include ‘transgender status.’… In short, Colorado law protects Coy and other transgender students from anti-transgender discrimination at Eagleside and other public schools in the state.”
The complaint was formally filed February 15. By March 7, the district had rejected offers for mediation, increasing the likelihood that the issue will go to trial. Therefore, Coy’s case “is the first test of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law as it relates to access to bathrooms for transgender people,” says Silverman. Access to bathrooms has been a contentious issue in the fight for transgender equality. Last year transgender college students in Arkansas and Pittsburgh fought for the right to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. In 2012 a transgender third-grader in New Hampshire won the right to use the girls’ restroom, but Mathis may be the youngest person to take on the issue, which may work to her advantage.
“It’s never too late for the school district to do the right thing and to teach a powerful lesson to its students, to the community, and to the world, about tolerance, respect, and fair play,” Silverman says. Coy’s mother agrees.
“We’re not asking for any special treatment for Coy,” says Kathryn, who has four other children. “We just want her to be in a safe environment where she’s treated equally.”