Officials say a school district discriminated against a six-year-old transgender girl by preventing her from using the girls' toilet, in what advocates described as the first such US ruling in the next frontier in civil rights.
Coy Mathis's family raised the issue after school officials at Eagleside Elementary in suburban Colorado Springs said the first-grader could use restrooms in either the teachers' lounge or in the nurse's office, but not the girls' bathroom. Coy's parents feared she would be stigmatised and bullied.
On Monday, the Mathis family and its lawyers celebrated the ruling on the steps of the state capitol. Coy, dressed in a glittering tank top, jeans and pink canvas sneakers, ran around a towering blue spruce tree as her mother spoke to reporters.
"Her future will be better if we get to this place where this is nothing to be ashamed of," Kathryn Mathis said, noting the family had not sought a civil rights battle but was happy for the Colorado Division of Civil Rights' ruling.
As the country's gay rights movement has won mounting legal and electoral victories in recent years, advocates hope the latest decision will lend momentum to the struggles of transgendered people.
"This is by far the high-water mark for cases dealing with the rights of transgendered people to access bathrooms," said the Mathis family's attorney, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defence and Education Fund. He and other advocates said the case is one of several potentially ground-breaking transgendered civil-rights cases winding their way through U.S. courts.
The Maine Supreme Court is considering the case of a 15-year-old transgendered girl who was forbidden from using her school's girls' bathroom.
Last year, Vice President Joe Biden called transgendered rights "the civil rights issue of our time." Sixteen states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia expressly outlaw discrimination against transgendered people.
Coy was born a triplet with two sisters and identified as a girl before she began attending elementary school. She showed little interest in toy cars and clothes for boys with pictures of sports, monsters and dinosaurs on them. She refused to leave the house if she had to wear boy clothes. After her parents accepted her identity, they said, Coy come out of her shell.
Coy was diagnosed with "gender identity disorder" - a designation the American Psychiatric Association removed last year from its list of mental ailments. The removal reflected the growing medical consensus that identification as another gender cannot be changed. The Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 declined to discuss the case Monday.