Updated: February 26, 2013 at 12:00 am
Six-year-old Coy Mathis explains her predicament in the simplest of terms:
“I want to go to school. We play games at recess,” the first grader said Tuesday.
But the transgender girl is being home schooled this semester because she has been denied access to the girls’ bathroom at Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, her parents say.
New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund attorneys said they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division on behalf of her parents Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, saying Coy has been discriminated against.
Forcing Coy to use a different bathroom than the girls, “is targeting her for stigma, bullying and harassment,” said Michael Silverman, TLDE attorney and executive director. He said that Colorado law prevents schools from discriminating against transgender students.
Coy was identified as a male at birth, but since age 18 months has insisted she is a girl, and has attended school as a girl since December, 2011. Her teachers referred to her as a girl, and she dressed like one and used the girls bathroom, her mother says.
But in December, administrators said Coy could no longer use the girls’ bathrooms, Mathis said.
The transgender defense fund provided The Gazette with a letter it said was from the school district that said, “The district’s decision 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.”
The letter, signed by D-8 attorney Kelly Dude, pointed out that Coy was not denied access to educational services. Coy can use the boys' bathroom, a staff bathroom or the nurse’s bathroom, the letter said. Dude and D-8 officials did not return phone calls to The Gazette.
The Civil Rights Division, under statute, cannot acknowledge the existence of a complaint, said Executive Director Steven Chavez. A case only becomes public if the Colorado Civil Rights Commission decides to take it to hearing.
Kathryn Mathis said she is telling her child’s story publicly because, “The more transgender issues are talked about the better it is. With awareness comes acceptance.”
She added, “The district is missing a great opportunity to teach acceptance and love and embracing those who are different, instead of teaching them to single people out as different.”
Coy was one of triplets born to the Mathis family — two boys and one girl. They have two other daughters, too.
“At 18 months of age Coy gravitated to girl things and very much disliked boy things,” Mathis said. She liked tutus and makeup and dresses. Coy’s brother was all boy, who liked monsters, and trucks and roughhousing.
“We had two boys with the same clothes and toys and they were so different. Coy was growing up very much a girl. We could compare the two and knew that we weren’t causing Coy to like certain things. We decided to let her just be who she is.”
When she was two and a half, Coy was anxious if she left the house dressed as a boy. She wanted princess dresses and hair bows. “If it was jeans and a polo shirt you could just see the happiness drain from her face,” Mathis said.
At age four, she asked them to take her to a doctor “to fix her body,” Mathis said.
By then, Mathis said she was expecting that conversation. “I was sad. It’s not something an innocent four year old should think of.” They told her she could go to the doctor, but that she couldn’t alter her body until she was an adult. That satisfied her.
When she started kindergarten, Coy wasn’t excited, and wanted her polo shirts to be pink. That was fine for a while, but when she insisted she was a girl, a classmate kept telling her she was a boy. She cried when she couldn’t be in the girl’s line at school.
“She told us, ‘My teacher doesn’t know I’m a girl,’” Mathis said.
Mathis said her husband, who is a former Marine and disabled veteran, “took more time to accept it.”
But then they decided that not letting Coy be who she was would cause her harm.
They consulted a psychologist, doctor and other parents of transgender children and support groups.
“We socially transitioned her to a girl, which at that age means merely changing pronouns and growing her hair out. No medicines,” Mathis says.
They met with the principal, teacher and school psychologist. “They told us they would help make it a safe environment for Coy. She blossomed and her grades went up.”
Some kids had questions, but the teacher merely responded that she was a girl. “The kids accepted things at face value.” Mathis said.
The family’s other children were confused at first, mostly because changing pronouns from him to her was hard.
But then in December, Mathis got a call from the principal saying that Coy could only use the boys’ bathroom, the nurses’ bathroom or the staff bathroom.
“They seem to think that gender and sexuality are the same. The bathrooms are private. It would be the same if she were older,” Mathis said.
They decided to home school her because using different facilities would be stigmatizing. “It would set her up for bullying and harassment.”
Through a lawyer, they tried to come to some agreement, but the school would not budge, she said. So they contacted the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Mathis has had sleepless nights. Besides dealing with Coy’s challenges, another of the triplets, Lily, contracted meningitis at age 4 months, and is disabled.
Asked if the stress gets to her, Mathis said. “After a while, it is just our normal. We deal with it all.”
Mathis says of Coy, “No one wants a hard path for their child. We will always accept her for who she is. But it is difficult knowing the obstacles she will face. Parents want kids to be happy.”
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