Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Transgender disputes in elementary schools

A mere 1.7 percent of the population defines itself as intersex. Even so, society is increasingly accepting of gender neutrality, albeit slowly. In the meantime, it still remains for these individuals to determine how to ingratiate themselves with a community that has a hard time accepting them.

Such a community might be an elementary school. In Colorado, a six-year-old named Coy defines herself as a girl, but she was born male and retains her male organs. Her school prohibits her from using the girls bathroom, requiring instead, according to The New York Times, that she use a gender-neutral restroom in the nurse’s office. Her parents are enraged, and the Times has reported that Coy’s case is at the heart of legal dispute likely to test Colorado’s anti-discrimination law which purportedly expands protections for transgender people.

The school’s concern is that as much as Coy maintains a female identity, preferring a wardrobe of dresses and sparkly boots, her male body parts will confuse and upset biologically female girls both now and later. They want to protect their young students’ uninformed sensibilities and avoid too much conflict with parents and the law.

But the school’s stance is hardly valid for a number of reasons. Its administration does not have the right to tell Coy her gender. What it should do is work to educate its students to be knowledgeable, if not accepting, of Coy’s gender identification despite her biological makeup. Undoubtedly it will be difficult for Coy to achieve social normalcy, and the school should work has hard as possible to increase its students’ vocabulary regarding the issue and make her feel welcome and respected.

According to the Times, some have called on Coy’s school and others to provide more gender-neutral restrooms. These will be a challenge to implement, no doubt, given the small population of intersex individuals and the ever-shrinking budget of public schools. Moreover, the concept of gender is not likely to be abolished anytime soon, so making more gender-neutral restrooms won’t be a top priority. Restructuring society for 1.7 percent is unfeasible, but helping this 1.7 percent feel accepted is completely possible. School districts should be attuned to the needs of transgender children, and Coy needs to identify with the female gender.


  1. The San Francisco transgender student policy has been in place since the mid to early 1990s, and district officials know of about 150 current middle school students and 300 high school students who identify as transgender, said Kevin Gogin, the program manager in school health programs for the district. Those numbers come from a yearly survey the district gives to students and represent about 1.5 percent of those enrolled.

    Students must identify as a certain gender “exclusively and consistently” and officials work with them to ensure they have access to the same activities and facilities as other students of that gender, Gogin said.

    He said there have been no problems with students claiming to be transgender when they are not, nor have there been complaints from parents.

    “These are students who have a sense that their gender identity is not matching the sex they were born with,” he said.

    What kind of assistance a transgender student receives depends on the individual’s needs, he said.

  2. Thank you for this supportive editorial regarding the situation of the trans student in Colorado. Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released guidelines designed to support the public schools in implementing state law to protects all of its students, regardless of gender identity or expression. I highly recommend reading them– they are a model of compassion, clarity, flexibility and respect for all: http://www.doe.mass.edu/ssce/GenderIdentity.pdf

    Just to be clear, though (since the editorial begins with a reference to interest, though it goes on to talk about a transgender girl– a connection that could confuse some readers), intersex and transgender are not the same. The former refers to those born with one of a range of “disorders of sexual development” (a term that some in the community prefer to “intersex”). The latter refers to folks who identify as a gender other than that associated with their birth sex. Trans folks may or may not medically transition, may or may not identify as simply “male” or “female”, may or may not wish to use a gender neutral facility.

    Thanks again for this piece.

    Cameron Partridge, Episcopal Chaplain at BU

  3. It has been stated in many forums the reason why Coy should not be discriminated against, why her femininity and status and appearance as a girl should be supported, not challenged. It should be obvious that we should all treat her as a girl, as she wishes, and not separate her as “different” – making her feel out-of-place is obviously bad for her self-esteem.

    Here is the reason why the “concerns” of the school are actually silly. They say they are worried about Coy’s genitalia being “disturbing” to other girls or their parents….well, here’s a NEWS FLASH: GIRLS USE BATHROOM STALLS. THE STALLS HAVE DOORS. WE KEEP THEM SHUT WHEN WE ARE IN THEM.

    Did everybody get that? I have been a girl all my life, until I became a woman. As a woman and as a girl, I have never — not once — used the bathroom with the door to the stall open! No one has ever had the opportunity to even see which pair of underwear I am wearing, much less catch a glimpse of my genitalia. And this is true of girls of all ages, and women of all ages. I have used a multitude of restrooms, in multiple U.S. state, in various countries. The women’s / girls’ bathrooms always have stalls, which always latch shut. I have consistently seen girls and women refuse to use the stall if the door is missing or will not latch shut.

    This, people, is why the Colorado elementary school in question has absolutely, completely no grounds for denying to let Coy use the girls’ bathroom with all of the other girls. The. Stalls. Have. Doors. No one will see anything untoward. So, stop this foolishness and let Coy be just another one of the girls, already!