Transgender washroom rights and transgender rights in general, have recently been a subject surrounding a lot of talk. Transgender is the term used to describe a person who’s gender identity is different from the one they were born with. Media has covered many cases of discrimination against transgender people. A particular case that received great attention was the Coy Mathis case. Coy was born a boy but later identified herself as a girl. In 2013 an elementary school discriminated against 6 year-old Coy Mathis by not letting her use the girl’s washroom (Huffington Post, 2013). Her parents filed a complaint against the school district and fought for Coy’s right to use the girl’s bathroom which sparked a lot of attention. Many journalists covered her story at the time and it became the inspiration for the recent documentary “Growing up Coy” that first premiered June 2016 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Eric Juhola, a film director, decided to document the story. The documentary named “Growing up Coy” focuses around Coy and the battle her parents faced when fighting for her right to use the girl’s washroom. The Coy Mathis case is only one of the many incidents of discrimination against transgender people, it’s an ongoing issue that continues to be brought to light and the opposing views it raises. Journalists wrote many articles about her story, which then leads to the question of how Juhola’s documentary differentiates itself and why it works better to influence an audience?
For starters, until recently in 2016 no media organizations even thought to create a documentary on the case. Fox News commentators vehemently oppose any accommodation of trans kids in schools, something Bill O’Reilly calls “anarchy and madness.” (Sabrina Rubin, 2013). Opposing views such as these are common and in fact Fox viewers have not even seen a transgender person on Fox, which Experts have criticized and said the networks reporting should speak to, rather than about, the trans community (Rachel Percelay, 2015). This is common when reading articles on trans issues, which often speak about the community and not to it. Juhola’s documentary differentiates itself by going in depth and speaking firsthand with a transgender girl. Meredith Talusan, who in 2015 became BuzzFeed’s first openly transgender staff writer and covers transgender issues for the website quoted, “Now, it’s actually possible to gain knowledge about trans issues from mainstream media sources. More of those sources have been willing to respect the ways in which trans people want to be addressed and portrayed, though there’s still a lot to be done.” (Sara Morrison, 2016).
As quoted by Morrison in her article, most coverage to date has tended to focus on one transgender persons pre-transition life and gender reassignment surgery, while rarely reporting on the wider transgender community (Sara Morrison, 2016). This is one way in which Juhola’s documentary differentiated itself. Juhola did not focus on simply Coy but the wider community, which can be seen and sensed when watching the documentary. For example, Juhola interviewed a mom from the support group Coy’s family goes to. This was unique because there is not a lot of coverage on support groups. Juhola quoted in an interview “It really makes you realize that whatever happened in the case with Coy. It’s certainly going to affect not just Coy, but everybody coming up behind her” ( Andrea Gonzales, 2016). This can be felt when watching the documentary and seeing how support groups help families that have transgender family members.
Another major way in which Growing up Coy stood out was the fact that Eric Juhola himself is part of the LGBT community and is gay. This helps connect to the documentary even more, knowing its produced by someone who genuinely cares for the issue first hand. You can sense Juhola has passion for the issue and is noted saying that he and Mr. Stulberg, his husband, embarked on the project before, in his words, “trans was, quote, trending.” (Cara Buckley, 2016). As the film was released in 2016, when this issue is at first hand, in the documentary Juhola sheds light on the story from 2013 till now. This differentiates compared to journalists who simply wrote a story on the issue at the time. L.A writer Stephen commented, that beyond becoming an important historical document, the film provides unique insight into what anyone who dares to stand up for their rights must endure when their fight becomes public ( Stephen Saito, 2016). According to another statement made by the director, he said I also hope that the film will highlight the sacrifice made by ordinary people who take a stand for the rights of all of us in the LGBTQ population (Eric Juhola, 2016). This for me, was highlighted when watching the film.
Another way in which Juhola’s documentary was successful was by showcasing the story and answering questions left unsaid. After CNN wrote an article on the story, it’s online audience responded to it with a range of questions and comments, with many saying the child is too young to comprehend gender differences (,Ed Payne, 2013). When you see the documentary, accusations such as these can be easily turned down as he first hand speaks to Coy in his film. Also after watching the documentary, many can probably tell Juhola did not cover this story to make a profit, it’s a very simple but capturing documentary, as compared to journalists that may be writing on the story simply because of the mass attention it brought. Another journalist and critic commented on Juhola’s work saying, there’s no fancy stylistic trickery or artsy approach to be found here. Juhola tells the story straight, and puts us in intimate proximity to the family as they face an often hostile and misunderstanding society (Christopher Bourne, 2016). Which is very prominent throughout the film.
In conclusion, transgender rights have recently been a subject surrounding a lot of talk. Media has covered many cases of discrimination against transgender people and tried to shed light on the issue. Which raises the question of how documentaries, such as Growing up Coy, cover the issue better? When watching Juhola’s documentary, compared to reading one of the many articles written by Journalists on such transgender stories, Juhola’s documentary most definitely has a bigger impact. Juhola not only spent more time with this story, he also helped showcase more than just Coy Mathis’s story, as often documentaries focus on one person at hand. Juhola took the story further and connected the audience to the actual community rather than speaking about the issue at hand, which is why Growing Up Coy leaves a lasting influence.
Bourne, C. (2016, June 16). Human Rights Watch 2016 Review: GROWING UP COY, Transgender Rights and A Family in the Eye of a Media Storm. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from http://screenanarchy.com/2016/06/human-rights-watch-2016-review-growing-up-coy-transgender-rights-and-a-family-in-the-eye-of-a-media.html
Buckley, C. (2016, June 6). ‘Growing Up Coy’ Explores the Fallout After a Family Fought for Its Transgender Child. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/movies/growing-up-coy-transgender-documentary.html?_r=1
Gonzales, A. (2016, June 27). What Coy Mathis’ Story Means for The Transgender Community Today. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from http://www.refinery29.com/2016/06/114683/growing-up-coy-transgender-rights
Huffington Post (2013, 8 March). Coy Mathis Case: School District Refuses to Enter Into Mediation With 6-Year-Old Transgender Girl Banned From Bathrooms. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/08/coy-mathis-case-district-_n_2838235.html
Juhola, E. (2016). Growing Up Coy Directors Statement. Retrieved July 24, 2016 from https://ff.hrw.org/sites/default/files/films/press_kits/GUC_EPK_20160516.pdf
Morisson, S. (2016, January 12). Covering the Transgender Community. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from http://niemanreports.org/articles/covering-the-transgender-community/
Payne, E. (2013, February 28). Parents of transgender first-grader file discrimination complaint. Retrieved July 24 from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/27/us/colorado-transgender-girl-school/
Percelay, R (2015, September 15). Why Doesn’t Fox News Host Transgender Guests? Retrieved July 24, 2016 from http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/09/15/why-doesnt-fox-news-host-transgender-guests/205365
Rubin, S. (2013, October 28). About a Girl: Coy Mathis’ Fight to Change Gender. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/about-a-girl-coy-mathis-fight-to-change-change-gender-20131028
Sainto, S. (2016, June 18). Frameline ’16 Interview: Eric Juhola on Capturing Transgender History in “Growing Up Coy”. Retrieved July 20, 2016 from http://moveablefest.com/moveable_fest/2016/06/eric-juhola-growing-up-coy.html