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Parents of transgender first-grader sue after school blocked girls’ bathroom use

By David Ferguson
Thursday, February 28, 2013 11:28 EDT
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Coy Mathis via screencap
 
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The family of a Colorado transgender girl has filed a discrimination suit after her school ordered her to stop using the girls’ bathroom. According to CNN, Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis, parents of first-grader Coy Mathis, have filed suit against the Fountain-Fort Carson School District under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

“In the end we just want what is the best for Coy,” said Kathryn Mathis. ”We want her to be able to go back to school and be treated equally without discrimination and harassment.”

Coy was born with male sex organs, but has identified as female from the moment she could first express herself, her mother said. Throughout kindergarten and most of this year, she has been allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. Then, earlier this year, Kathryn Mathis said she received notice from the school that Coy would have to be separated from the other girls during bathroom breaks.

Transgender children experience what is known as “gender dysphoria,” a clash between their sex, which is biologically determined and their gender, which is a construct of ideas, societal norms and behaviors. Raw Story spoke with child psychologist Diane Ehrensaft, author of the book Gender Born, Gender Made, who said that some children express their feelings of gender dysphoria before they are even verbal.

“Often times what we see is that when transgender children announce their gender, it’s not a case of ‘I feel like a girl’ or ‘I feel like a boy,’” she said. “It’s more a case of ‘I am a boy and you guys have got it wrong about who I am.’”

Ehrensaft believes in trusting the child’s wisdom about themselves. In assessing a family, she asks first what the child is telling the parents about themselves, both verbally and non-verbally. Second, she assesses the family’s reaction, asking about their perceptions of the child’s behavior.

Adults often confuse expression of gender identity as an offshoot of sexual orientation, but it is not. Ehrensaft pointed out that children as young as 2 and 3 years old have little or no use for the concept of sexual orientation and that gender identity and orientation are completely separate concepts.

“Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” she said. “Gender is who you go to bed as.”

Some transgender children grow up to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, Ehrensaft explained, some do not. Many children are “gender fluid” she said, experimenting with social roles and behaviors on their way to becoming well-rounded adults. She warned that as much as parents can affect their child’s development by reacting negatively to gender dysphoria, they can also push too hard the other way in an attempt to be “politically correct.”

“Sometimes that’s their agenda instead of the child’s,” she said. “And so I watch for that as well. The children will do as well as the parents do.”

“It takes some time” to interpret a child’s messages, she said, “and you have to be able to live with ambiguity and not knowing. Stay with your child where your child is on their journey so you’re not pushing them backwards and you’re not pushing them forwards.”

In Colorado, attorney Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, who filed the Mathis family’s complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights division, told CNN, “For many transgender people, discrimination is a daily part of life. Unfortunately for Coy, it has started very early. The world is going to be looking at the school,” which has a chance to “send a message to the world and teach tolerance, fair play and equal rights.”

The school district’s attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said that the district “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…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.”

The district said that Coy can use the gender-neutral faculty bathrooms, the bathroom in the school nurse’s office or the boys’ bathroom, just not the girls’ bathroom.

Watch video of the Mathis family’s press conference, embedded below via YouTube:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
 
 
 
 
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