DENVER - A Colorado family has filed a civil rights complaint with the state after a school banned their transgender first-grader from using the girls' restroom.
Coy Mathis, 6, was born male, but wears girls' clothing and students and staff use female pronouns when referring to her.
For the past year, Coy, a first-grader at Eagleside Elementary School in Fountain, has used the girls' bathroom on campus.
But the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) said Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 changed its policy in December. After winter break, district officials said Coy could no longer use the girls' bathroom and ordered Coy to use either the boys' bathroom, a staff bathroom, or the nurse's bathroom.
"By forcing Coy to use a different bathroom than all the other girls, Coy's school is targeting her for stigma, bullying and harassment," said Michael Silverman, TLDEF's executive director, and one of Mathis' lawyers.
"You see a little girl walk into the boys' bathroom, that's setting her up in an unsafe situation. Or you see her having to walk quite a ways from her classroom to the adult staff bathrooms or the nurse's restroom and you're singling her out when you do that. You're creating a stigma that doesn't need to be created," said Kathryn Mathis, the child's mother.
Mathis said Coy is a triplet -- there was Coy, her brother, Max, and her sister, Lilly. Coy also has a younger sister, Auri, and an older sister, Dakota. But Coy has always identified herself as a girl, the child's mother said.
"We started noticing when Coy was about 18 months, as soon as she started expressing herself, she was really expressing that she was a girl. Of course, our thought at the time was that she was a little boy who liked girls' things. It wasn't until she started becoming depressed and anxious that we knew there was something else going on and took her to medical professionals, who then, in fact, told us she was transgender," Mathis said.
She said when Coy was forced to dressed like a boy and forced to cut her hair, she became very anxious and depressed.
"We couldn't get her to leave the house, go the playground, play with friends," Mathis said. "She would break down crying. She was so deeply unhappy and a 3-year-old or 4-year-old shouldn't be that unhappy and that was when we sought professional help."
The family has filed a complaint with the Colorado of Division of Civil Rights, which will make a determination if Coy's civil rights have been violated. If the school district or the family disagrees with the ruling, then that would lead to an appeal in the form of a lawsuit.
"Through the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, Coloradans have made it clear that they want all Colorado children to have a fair and equal chance in school," Silverman said. "Coy's school has the opportunity to turn this around and teach Coy's classmates a valuable lesson about friendship, respect and basic fairness."
This is the first case to challenge a restriction on a transgender person's bathroom use under Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act.
"It is not appropriate for the school to place a bulls eye on her back by saying she's so different from every other student that she has to use a bathroom that no other student uses. That is not an acceptable outcome," Silverman said.
The family has since withdrawn Coy from the school but hopes to have her back in the classroom soon. Mathis said while Coy was at the school for kindergarten and first-grade, there were never any issues with other parents or students about Coy's gender.
"We want her to be treated like every other girl at school," Silverman said.
The Mathis family said they understand that their decision to fight for Coy to use the girls' bathroom will bring unwanted attention and criticism.
"Unless you've met Coy, unless you've been in these shoes, that's something that's easy to think, but you just have to really look at Coy. You dress her in girls clothes and you let her be who she is and she's amazingly happy," Kathryn Mathis said.
"I think with more awareness comes acceptance," Kathryn Mathis added.
"Every father has a vision of what they want their son to be like, but in this case, Coy is a girl … I don't want her to grow up and regret her horrible childhood. Whatever is best for Coy … is all I want to see," Jeremy Mathis, Coy's father, said.
When asked if a 6-year-old was too young to know if he could identify himself as a girl, Silverman responded, "People don't decide who they want to be. People are who they are. And different people come out as transgender at different points in their lives."
The Mathis family was on the "Katie" show Tuesday on Denver's 7.
On Wednesday, the school district released a statement that said:
“The parents of Coy Mathis have filed a charge of discrimination with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights. They have 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. The District firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue. 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. The District is preparing a response to the charge which it will submit to the Division. Therefore, the District will not comment further on this matter out of respect for the process which the parents have initiated.”
7NEWS talked to transgender studies expert Matt Kailey, an affiliate professor in the Department of Women's Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Kailey said this is not about gay or straight. He said there is a difference between sexual identity and gender identity. Kailey said children can identify with a gender at 3 years old, sometimes earlier.
For the first 42 years of his life, Kailey lived as a woman and says he knew at age 10 he was different. He stressed this situation is much more complex than a little boy who wants play with dolls.
"You don't have a choice. You can't make it go away," he said.
Kailey says it's not uncommon for a young child to identify with the other gender, even at a very young age.
"Gender identity is determined as far as we know in the brain. In most cases it sort of matches - is congruent with body - but in many cases we've seen, it is not," said Kailey.
The professor added that it is difficult to say just how this happens, but stressed early acknowledgement is important because suicide rates are high, among transgendered children.