Public Schools

Sweeping changes that hurt a transgender student were made to a play at a Texas high school. Then people spoke up.

  Rob Boston

A recent situation in a Texas community shows what can happen when folks speak out against misguided policies that hurt young people.

It’s no secret that Texas and many other states have been implementing policies aimed at denying the rights and humanity of transgender youth. These harmful policies are often sponsored by Christian Nationalist political leaders and backed by Christian Nationalist groups.

In North Texas, officials at Sherman High School abruptly decreed that students taking part in a production of the popular musical “Oklahoma!” had to play parts that matched their assigned gender at birth. They also decided to use a “youth version” of the play that omits many songs.

Trans teen targeted

It’s unclear what motivated these changes, but they fell heavily on Max Hightower, a senior who is transgender. Max had been selected to play the character of Ali Hakim, who in the adult version of the play sings a solo.

Max was looking forward to the play. His father, Phillip Hightower, told the district’s school board last week, “This was the biggest role Max ever had, this was a solo. This would’ve been the culmination of his career.”

Phillip Hightower wasn’t the only one who spoke out during the Nov. 13 school board meeting. Local media reported that more than 60 people addressed the board – and all of them were on Max’s side.

“It was emotional and empowering,” Max Hightower told WFAA-TV. “I didn’t expect there to be no hate at all. This is something that feels so big and out of my hands. To know there is a big group out of people who want to help me, and help everyone affected, it feels like we’re on even sides now and can actually win this fight.”

Board reverses course

And win they did. After hearing public comment, the board held a closed-door session and voted 7-0 to restore the original version of “Oklahoma!” and let Max play the part of Ali Hakim.

Americans United has reported on the antics of the members of groups like Moms for Liberty and other Christian Nationalist extremists who attend school board meetings to demand book censorship and anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-diversity policies. They sometimes use intemperate rhetoric that turns public meetings into shouting matches.

Those of us who support separation of church and state, inclusion and secular public education can attend these meetings, too. When you take the time to show up, great things can result.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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