Colorado, U.S. -- A transgender rights group announced Wednesday that it has filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on behalf of a first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. The filing stems from a decision announced last December by officials at Fountain-Fort Carson School District that Coy Mathis could no longer use the girls' bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.
Mother Kathryn Mathis said she and her husband were shocked.
"We were very confused because everything was going so well, and they had been so accepting, and all of a sudden it changed and it was very confusing and very upsetting because we knew that, by doing that, she was going to go back to being unhappy," she told CNN. "It was going to set her up for a lot of bad things."
Coy was born with male sex organs but has identified as female since she could express herself, her mother said.
The child had attended classes during her kindergarten year with no problems and no complaints from anyone at the school.
Afraid bullies would make fun of her daughter, Kathryn Mathis said she pulled Coy out of school during winter break.
"In the end, we just want what is the best for Coy," Mathis said about the complaint. "We want her to be able to go back to school and be treated equally without discrimination and harassment."
Attorney Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing Coy, said the complaint -- which was filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division -- is intended to have an impact beyond a single family or school.
"For many transgender people, discrimination is a daily part of life. Unfortunately for Coy, it has started very early," he said, adding that the complaint is a "test of Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act."
"The world is going to be looking at the school," he said, which can "send a message to the world and teach tolerance, fair play and equal rights."
A girl's life for a boy
For most of the past year, Coy has dressed as a girl.
Coy's passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.
Kathryn Mathis said she got a call "out of the blue" from the school in December saying that Coy could use the boys' bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse's bathroom, but not the girls' facilities.
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," a letter the family's attorney received in December said.
"However, 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."
In a statement Tuesday, the district's attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said: "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."
"It's sad that the Mathis family had to file a civil rights complaint in order for their daughter to be treated equally," said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in a statement. "The students clearly aren't the only people at this school who need more education."
A little-studied group
Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is based on their anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities, experts say.
Comprehensive data and studies about transgender children are rare. International studies have estimated that anywhere from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000 people are transgender. Some children as young as age 3 show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children say.
These children are not intersex -- they do not have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though experts do not agree on whether it's psychologically or physiologically based.
Many transgender people report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.
Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. The difference is that "gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with," said Dr. Johanna Olson, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.
Children around age 3 are probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children who look like they will be transgender in early childhood turn out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Coy's case will be the first to challenge a restroom restriction under the state's anti-discrimination act, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund said.
For now, the first-grader is being home-schooled.