The school district’s response? Yeah, it sucked
It’s never too early to talk to kids about transgender people. In fact, according to several organizations, including Planned Parenthood, most kids begin to identify strongly with a gender around age 3, including transgender and gender noncomforming people. But, according to some parents in Austin, Texas, the topic of transgender people has no place in the classroom, as several parents recently complained about a teacher who read a children’s book about a transgender boy to her fourth grade class. And — get this — the school not only apologized for the reading, but they also made counselors available to students. Really?
Last week, a teacher read the book Call Me Max, written by Stonewall Award-winning author Kyle Lukoff. The book, which is aimed at children in early elementary school, tells the story of a child discovering his identity as a transgender boy.
Some parents, however, deemed the reading inappropriate, and several of them wrote letters to Forest Trail Elementary not only calling for the teacher to be fired but also asking if the book was included in the curriculum.
In response, Eanes Independent School District’s Chief Learning Officer Susan Fambrough explained in an email to parents that while the book was included on a list of diverse books circulated among teachers, it was not, as she put it, “appropriate to be read aloud to an entire elementary-age class.” Kay.
“The particular topic of the book (gender identity) is understandably sensitive and personally important to many families,” stated the district, which has been working with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant over the past eight months.
“In time, the subject of gender identity may be addressed instructionally – but only with proper caution and prior parent awareness,” the district continued. “We recognize, while we have always tried to create a climate where all children feel they belong, we also have to be aware of the maturity level of children in the classroom regarding sensitive topics.”
Fambrough also mentioned that counselors were made available to students following the reading.
“Counselors were made available to support students, and the school administration worked with families to provide an explanation and reassurances,” she wrote.
And that over-the-top move was criticized by none other than the author himself.
“Do you believe that a read-aloud about a transgender child is an equivalent trauma?” Lukoff asked in a letter to the school. “How do you think transgender people in your community felt having their identities treated like a disaster?”
What the district may not realize is this move — and the negative comments from parents — may leave LGBTQ children and their families feeling marginalized and unsupported. That it sends a terrible message to transgender children.
“It tells them that they must be invisible, that they can’t talk about who they are, that they are unworthy,” Jo Ivester tells TODAY. Ivester’s transgender son, Jeremy, attended Eanes schools from kindergarten through graduation.
“If this resource was around when I was a kid and I had been exposed to this, it would’ve been life-changing, because I grew up in a time where no one really knew what transgender was, that it was a thing you could be,” Jeremy tells CBS Austin. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate that this is taught in schools and that kids are allowed to see and that it’s not something taboo, that it’s something that should be normalized.”
Another parent, Yvonne Adams, agrees with Jo, telling the outlet that it was “alarming” to hear the way the parents reacted.
“It is absolutely age appropriate for children at that age to be having those discussions,” Adams said.
In an interview with TODAY, Lukoff added that the underlying message of the district’s actions is that the books are not appropriate to be read to children.
“And if the books are not appropriate, then an actual, living, breathing flesh-and-blood trans person must also not be appropriate,” he said. “And these kinds of controversies make that message clear to kids, to families, to other trans teachers, that we’re not welcome as our full selves.”
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