Transgender Girl's Parents Lobby for Her Right to Use the Bathroom

The Mathis family, with Coy, far right. (The family let the kids dye their hair for fun over the summer.) Photo: …The parents of a 6-year-old transgender girl who has been banned from using the girls’ bathroom at her Fountain, Colorado public school have filed a formal discrimination complaint with the aid of a lawyer—and are using the opportunity to speak out publicly in support of their child.

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“The more you talk about something, the more awareness and acceptance there is,” Kathryn Mathis, mother of first grader Coy, who was born a boy, told Yahoo! Shine. “We’re really just trying to make it known what the school has done and make them accountable.”

The family has filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. It will be investigated, and if either party is unhappy with the outcome, the next step would be a lawsuit.

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Kathryn and her husband, Jeremy, appeared with Coy on the "Katie" show Wednesday to talk about the case. “The school is really missing out on something big,” Kathryn, a photographer and certified nurse’s assistant, said during the broadcast. “They could be taking the opportunity to teach all of the students that everybody is different and that we should embrace our differences and we should respect everybody. Instead they’re creating this divided environment where they’re showing all these children that a child is different and we’re going to treat them poorly because of it.”

Kathryn and Jeremy, a full-time student and disabled veteran, have four other children, including a set of triplets, one of which is Coy. Kathryn explained on "Katie" that Coy, a Girl Scout who loves pink, began gravitating toward girls’ toys and clothes by 18 months. Gender eventually turned into a bigger issue when Coy asked, at age 4, “When are we going to go to the doctor to get me fixed so I can be a girl?” A psychologist confirmed then that Coy was indeed transgender, at which point, noted Jeremy, “We really needed to let Coy be who she was.”

Coy Mathis. Photo: Kathryn MathisThat led to allowing Coy to “transition” into girlhood in school, which meant dressing as a female, lining up with the other girls and using the girls’ restroom.

“The change in Coy after she transitioned at school was just amazing,” Kathryn said. “The anxiety went away, the depression went away. She became happy.” She told Shine that Coy has many friends, and that they’d never had any problems with or complaints from any of the other children’s parents.

But then, in December, Kathryn and Jeremy got a call from the principal of Eagleside Elementary School, explaining that the school had reversed its position on allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom. As an alternative to using the boys’ bathroom, he offered, she could use either the one in the nurse’s office or the one reserved for teachers. That, felt Coy’s parents, was unacceptable, and a move that would surely “set her up for harassment and bullying,” Kathryn explained.

Turns out the bathroom ban was also a violation of Colorado law, noted one of the Mathis’s lawyers, Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in New York City. The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against transgender students in public schools. And the state is just one of 16 states with similar laws. Just this week in Massachusetts, the department of education mandated that transgender students have the right to choose which bathroom they will use.

But according to the lawyer for the school district, William Kelly Dude, who released an official statement to Yahoo! Shine, the school "firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue." In addition, the statement says, the family has "chosen to publicize this matter by appearing on a nationally televised show with their child, sharing their point of view with national and local media, and holding a public press conference to announce the filing of the charge. However, the District believes the appropriate and proper forum for discussing the issues identified in the charge is through the Division of Civil Rights process.”

Until the matter is settled, the Mathises have decided to homeschool Coy while lending their fierce support—which is vital, Silverman noted.

“More and more we’re seeing parents embrace their transgender children, because they want what’s best for them,” the lawyer told Yahoo! Shine. “And family support is so important in a case like this. Coy is too young to defend her own rights, so she needs her parents to step in for her.”

Public restrooms, for many transgendered youth and adults, are ground zero for anxiety, stress and harassment. That’s the focus of an illuminating 2003 short documentary film, “Toilet Training,” created by filmmaker Tara Mateik and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a New York City transgender law resource.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, especially, like, in the bathroom,” notes one of the film’s subjects, Tommy Wang. “That’s where gender, and how my gender identity was different, came up.” In turn, explains the law project’s founder Dean Spade (who was arrested in 2002 for attempting to use the men’s bathroom at Grand Central Station), “what you see is people not using the bathroom when they need to. And, anecdotally, I’ve definitely seen in the trans community that people have a lot of health problems [like bladder infections] related to that.” 

Silverman acknowledged on Katie that the situation is difficult for everyone involved, including for parents of other children who might feel uncomfortable with Coy using the girls’ room. “But somehow,” he said, “we have to find a way to treat all of our children equally so they can succeed at school and in life.”

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