Gender identity has been a big topic in the news recently. Back in December, a transgendered first grader named Coy Mathis was banned from using the girl’s restroom at her Colorado elementary school. While Coy was born a male, she identified as a female. All of her identification (including her passport) recognized her as a female, yet the school district informed her parents that after their winter break, Coy would have to either use the boy’s bathroom, the faculty bathroom (which was gender neutral), or the nurse’s bathroom.
The District stated that they had to think about the rest of the students and their parents, who might have objections once Coy grew older. “At least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom,” said attorney W. Kelly Dude, regarding the decision.
Coy’s parents felt as if this transition would only target Coy further for bullying and harassment, and promptly filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. They also decided to pull her out of school, feeling as if homeschooling would be their best option.
This wasn’t the first awkward situation for Coy. In kindergarten, at Eagleside Elementary School, Coy lined up with the girls when a teacher asked boys and girls to form separate lines. When she was ordered to stand with the boys, she cried.
This week, the California senate passed a bill approving a state-wide K-12 transgender rights bill, which mandates that public schools respect the identity of their transgender students, allowing them to “participate in sex-segregated programs, activities, and facilities”. In other words, young Coy would be able to go to the bathroom she feels most comfortable in.
While existing state law already prohibits California schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity, this bill will define that law just a little bit better.
Senator Mark Leno from San Francisco had this to say about the bill, which is currently headed to Governor Jerry Brown for approval:
“There should be certainty that every kid has the chance to go to school and be treated equally and fairly. We know that these particular students suffer much abuse and bullying and denigration. We can’t change that overnight, but what we can do is make sure that the rules are such that they get a fair shake.”
Transgenders have been in the mainstream music world as well – in May of 2012, lead singer Tom Gabel from the punk band Against Me! announced he was transgender, and started the process of becoming a woman by the name of Laura Jane Grace. Just recently, she opened up to Cosmopolitan magazine to describe the process, and her first year fully identifying as a woman.
“I was always attracted to women. It was never a sexuality issue. I just knew that if I could make a wish to change into a woman myself, I would have made it 100 times every day,” said Grace about her high school experiences as a man. “It became so stressful that I’d reach these points where I’d throw all my women’s clothes in a dumpster and swear, ‘Never again will I do this!’”
Her wife, Heather, has been nothing but supportive of the process. “In my mind, I married a person whom I fell deeply in love,” she said. Fans of the band have also been understanding, realizing that Grace’s talents and individuality are strong regardless of the gender she was born.
While this bill is amazing news for many, there were a few people who voted against it – including Republican Senator Jim Nielsen.
“Think about the millions of California parents and students who at the least would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with what this bill would impose upon them,” Nielsen said.
Regardless, The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 21-9. And while transgender students might unfortunately have a tougher time than most, hopefully this bill will help make life just a little bit easier for them.
And – remember Coy? Her family had more good news in late June, as they won their case. The civil rights ruling found that the school district “discriminatorily denied” Coy “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations in a place of public accommodation due to (her) sex and sexual orientation.”
So while this probably won’t be her first challenge to deal with – and while her childhood is going to be tougher than most – all of these progressions prove that she’s bound to see a lot of social changes in her lifetime.