Colorado School Won't Let Transgender First Grader Use the Girl's Bathroom

Illustration for article titled Colorado School Won't Let Transgender First Grader Use the Girl's Bathroom

Colorado first grader Coy Mathis can't use the girl's restroom at her elementary school because she has a penis.


Coy identifies as female on her passport and state-issued identification, and she's dressed as a girl for most of last year. But the Fountain-Fort Carson School District decided not to let her use the girls' restrooms because of the precedent that would set; it "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," attorney W. Kelly Dude, who (clearly) didn't refer to Coy using her preferred pronoun, told CNN. "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."

Policies on transgender kids vary around the country; in New York, the law protects students from being discriminated on the basis of how they self-identify, but in Maine, a court recently ruled that a school district was allowed to bar a transgender student from using the girl's restroom. Coy's district says it abides by the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act because Coy can use the boy's bathroom, the gender-neutral faculty bathrooms, or the nurse's bathroom, and because she's allowed to wear girls' clothes and be referred to as a girl. But Coy's parents disagree, and are filing a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the first of its kind.

I can see the district's point within the context of our culture; kids that grow up unfamiliar with transgender rights or human sexuality in general would probably be uncomfortable knowing there's a person with male genitalia in the bathroom. But that stance inarguably implies that there's something intrinsically wrong with kids like Coy, which isn't okay, especially since it's not like she would be waving her dick around in her peer's faces; she'd be doing her business in a bathroom stall. (And if a girl was acting the same way in the girl's bathroom re: her vagina, that would be an issue, too.)

"Coy's school has the opportunity to turn this around and teach Coy's classmates a valuable lesson about friendship, respect and basic fairness," said Michael Silverman, one of Coy's lawyers and the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Exactly. Unless school districts are forced to tackle transgender rights head on — even if it leads to complicated discussions and potentially "uncomfortable" situations — nothing will change.


(image via Katie Couric)



I'm really torn on this issue. Not this specific case, but how to best encourage and support young children who start to identify with the opposite gender. I'm not denying that there are 4-8 year olds who are transgender, but when do you know when a 4 year old is actually trans as opposed to just playing around/using their imagination/unhappy with something? I was always very close to my oldest niece (I totally played favourites here), and when she was around 6 or so she confessed to me she thought she should have been born a boy. She was the oldest of three girls at the time, and her mother was a hairdresser. All the females in her life were extremely 'girly'- her sisters always wanted to play with dolls and do each other's hair, her mother loved to take them shopping, etc. On the other hand, she loved sports and always wanted to go out with her father instead, who was a very traditional 'manly' man (hunting, fishing, hockey, etc).

When she told me this (I was in my early 20s), I just explained that it was fine for her to like 'boy' things, since girls can play anyway they want, and tried to explain the difference between being a girl and being 'girly'. She seemed fine with this, and for years would bring that up as her excuse for not wanting to do something (her mother, my sister, was pretty mad when my niece told her that she wasn't wearing dresses ever again because they were too girly and Aunt L said it was ok). Now that she's a teenager, she's on the track and hockey team, but has relaxed a little in some other ways and started wearing makeup.

My point is this. I don't believe that my niece is trans. We are very close, and she feels completely comfortable telling me things she wouldn't tell her parents. She's also heard me argue for LGBT rights with other members of my family (who are mostly conservative people), so I know she knows I would accept her any way. I just think she is a total tomboy, like I was. But if she had had parents like these (who seem wonderful and supportive), who heard her statement and started encouraging her to dress like a boy all the time and introduced the concept of actually being born the wrong gender, would that have been better? How do you know when a young child is going through a phase or not? Should I have done something differently with my niece?