The Colorado Division of Civil Rights has sided with Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis in a discrimination dispute with their child’s school district. The parents wanted the school to allow their child, Coy— who was born a boy but has been dressing and acting as a girl since age 18 months—to use the girls’ restroom. The state agreed in a letter dated June 18, and the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced the decision on Sunday.
Coy was born a triplet. After he showed a tendency to like girls’ clothing and refused to leave the house wearing boys’ clothing, the parents took him to a psychologist who diagnosed Coy with “gender identity disorder” — a designation the American Psychiatric Association changed to “gender dysphoria” this April.
The family has battled this issue since the child entered school, first by lobbying the school to accept Coy’s choice of dress. When the child entered first grade, that battle shifted to restrooms.
The school originally permitted Coy to use the girls’ restroom, but revoked that decision in December 2012, saying the first-grader could only use restrooms in the teachers’ lounge or nurse’s office. Coy’s parents thought the restroom decision stigmatized and singled out Coy, so they filed a complaint with the school district and homeschooled Coy until a decision could be reached.
Coy’s is the first case that rules in favor of such a young transgender child, and many legal experts believe it will affect similar cases in other states, like the Maine Supreme Court case of a 15-year-old transgender boy who wants freedom to use the girls’ restroom in school.
The American Civil Liberties Union supports cases like these and others involving transgender children and adults. “The ACLU champions the rights of transgender people to live their lives freely and with respect,” the organization states on its website. “We fight for protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations (including schools), and health care.” The ACLU website also features more than 100 links and guides, plus legal information on transgender cases.
The District of Columbia and 16 states have passed laws preventing discrimination based on gender identity or expression, and more than 100 cities have done the same. In those regions, schools scramble to define discrimination as they adjust to LGBT students. A quick search of major media outlets, like the Associated Press and National Public Radio, reveals dozens of articles in the last few months. They refer to it as the next civil rights issue.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., said there is clearly “a new social movement” to protect the rights of transgender people in court and state legislatures. Sexual orientation is mostly protected, he pointed out, but expanding those rights to transgender people may be more difficult, because “sexual orientation is largely invisible. … In this case, you’re dealing with something that’s manifest visibly.”
Mark Yarhouse, a psychology professor at Regent University, said the church faces an increasingly complex culture of sexuality, especially regarding transgender issues: “That complexity is going to require from the church clarity about what we teach, what we believe, but also compassion in how we respond to things where we may not have great clarity.”