The story of transgender 6-year-old Coy Mathis has received widespread media attention after the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that her former school impaired her well-being by barring her from using the girls’ bathroom. Earlier this year, Coy’s parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, started a Change.org petition calling for the school district to treat their daughter equally, and filed a lawsuit through the New York based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF).
With this victory that could set a precedent for other transgender youth facing discrimination, many media outlets have done an excellent job of respecting Coy’s identity and ignoring that outrageous claims of anti-LGBT activists. However, some continue to suggest that acting upon the unfounded fears of parents is more important and fair than granting a transgender child the same opportunities as her peers, and teaching that child's peers to treat trans people the same as everyone else.
In the Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Tod Robberson says that Coy’s school was facing an “impossible choice” when it came to whether or not to allow her to use the girls’ bathroom. Robberson relies on the claim that other children will be confused by Coy, a claim made and apologized for earlier this year by Dr. Jim Sears of CBS’s The Doctors. He adds that there is a “journalistic conundrum” in identifying Coy as a girl, but makes no mention of the fact that doing so is following the guidelines of the AP Stylebook that most journalists adhere to.
As such anti-transgender commentary emerges, it is crucial that the media remain vigilant in representing transgender people fairly. Misidentifying Coy is not a neutral position for journalists to take. It is inaccurate and offensive. In the same way, it is not reasonable to isolate a transgender child from her peers simply because of discomfort tied to a lack of understanding, and the law has now affirmed that.
Recognizing transgender people as who they are is part of basic respect that the media should uphold without exception.
This story has been a chance for many outlets to educate their audiences about the challenges facing (and existence of) transgender children. Many in the media took this opportunity to teach seriously. Others, like Robberson, still have a lot to learn.