In a ruling never before seen in the United States, the Colorado Civil Rights division has said that Coy Mathis, a transgender six-year-old who was born a boy but self-identifies as a girl, can use the girls bathroom at her elementary school, the Associated Press reports.
Transgender advocacy groups say the decision sets a new precedent.
"This is the first ruling in the country that upholds the rights of [transgender] students to use the bathroom that reflects who they are," says Genny Beemyn, director of University of Massachusetts—Amherst's Stonewall Center, which focuses on education of LGBTQ issues. "And I think it's going to lead a lot of school systems to do the right thing."
Jennifer Levi of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) says schools in the U.S. have increasingly allowed transgender kids to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify – so long as they have received guidance on the issue from above.
"What we've heard is that schools welcome guidance that instructs them how to most appropriately respond to students' needs," says Levi, who directs the Transgender Rights Project at GLAAD.
The Massachusetts Department of Education, for example, has new guidance out that says schools should ensure their students can access bathrooms and other changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity. Connecticut's Safe Schools Coalition has similar guidelines.
In Maine, the effort for standards on restroom access for transgender kids has been more controversial. In 2010, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that a middle school had unlawfully discriminated against a transgender sixth-grade student who identified as a girl by not allowing her to use the girls bathroom. But a Superior Court Justice later reversed the commission's decision, and that case is now before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Both the Coy Mathis and Maine Supreme Court cases have been greeted with intense media coverage, something Aaron McQuade, a spokesman for the gay rights group GLAAD, says has been game-changing in itself.
"It's really the first time many Americans have even heard of the concept of a transgender child," he says. "And this is not the first lawsuit we've seen, but it's the first victory we've seen" on the issue of bathroom access.
With more attention has come more backlash. In April, Arizona state representative John Kavanagh promoted a bill to prosecute transgender people who use a public restroom that doesn't match up with their appearance.
Focus on the Family, a socially conservative group, has similarly advocated against schools and parents allowing transgender kids to use bathrooms based on the gender with which they self-identify.
Jeff Johnston, an analyst at Focus on the Family, said parents ought to be providing kids like Coy with "help and healing," not encouragement on his transition.
"Rather than supporting his gender confusion, he should be helped to embrace his masculinity and join the world of boys," Johnston said. "Girls shouldn't be faced with the possibility of seeing a boy in their bathroom."