Colorado school discriminated against transgender girl, report finds

Posted June 24, 2013, at 6:26 p.m.

DENVER — A Colorado school district discriminated against a 6-year-old transgender girl when it barred her from using the girls’ lavatory, according to a report by the state’s civil rights division released by the family’s attorney Sunday.

Coy Mathis, who was born male but has identified as a female since an early age, attended Eagleside Elementary School, south of Colorado Springs, as a girl since kindergarten.

She was allowed to use the girls’ restroom until late 2012, when the principal informed the parents that Coy would have to use the boys’ restroom or a gender-neutral staff lavatory.

Her parents withdrew Coy from the school. In February, they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

The division’s report, signed by its director, Steven Chavez, said the Fountain-Fort Carson School District violated a state law that extends protections to transgender people.

“Given the evolving research into the development of transgender persons, compartmentalizing a child as a boy or girl solely based on their visible anatomy is a simplistic approach to a difficult and complex issue,” the report said.

The report criticized school officials for forcing Coy to “disregard her identity” when using the bathroom.

“It also deprived her of the social interaction and bonding that commonly occurs in girls’ restrooms during these formative years, i.e., talking, sharing and laughter,” the report said.

The case mirrors one in Maine which is currently before the state supreme court. The incident that sparked the court case began in 2007 when a child, who was born male but identifies as female, was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono. She was told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained.

The girl’s parents and the MHRC sued the Orono school district, now called Riverside RSU 26, and then Superintendent Kelly Clenchy after the commission ruled in the girl’s favor.

Both sides have appealed the November decision of a Superior Court judge to the Maine supreme court. Justice William Anderson’s decision sided with the school district over the girl’s use of the student bathroom.

The major question before the Maine justices is a conflict between a law passed in the 1920s that requires separate bathrooms for boys and girls in schools and the provision enacted in 2005 in the Maine Human Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed the Colorado complaint, said, “this ruling sends a loud and clear message that transgender students may not be targeted for discrimination and that they must be treated equally in school.”

A lawyer for the school district could not be immediately reached for comment.

In a statement issued at the time the case surfaced, the district said the family was unwilling to meet with school officials to discuss “reasonable proposals” to resolve the dispute.

“The parents consistently indicated … that they would file a discrimination charge if the district did not completely acquiesce to their demands,” the statement said.

The school district can appeal the report’s findings, Silverman said, but he said he hoped that school officials would accept the findings.

The Mathis family has moved to the Denver area, but Silverman said the ruling should serve as a model for schools nationwide on how to deal with transgender students.

The girl’s mother, Kathryn Mathis, who has home-schooled her daughter since the dispute arose, said Coy is eager to return to school.

“All we ever wanted was for Coy’s school to treat her the same as other little girls,” she said. “We are extremely happy that she now will be treated equally.”

 

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