A community is rallying behind a 6-year-old transgender girl after her school cancelled a planned reading of the book I Am Jazz to introduce her gender identity to her classmates due to backlash.
The student was planning on introducing herself last Monday to her friends at Mount Horeb Primary Center in Wisconsin as the girl “she really is," her mother told the Wisconsin State Journal.
The girl's transition started a year ago after her parents and teachers noticed she was displaying signs of anxiety and depression. The girl and her family have not been named publicly for privacy reasons.
"She also would ask, 'Why do I have boy parts? I feel like I’m a girl. Can I grow my hair out? Why can’t I be a girl? I feel like I’m a girl,'" her mother told the paper. “It progressed from there. She vocalized more as she got older and she became more persistent."
After discussing it with the girl's parents, the school planned a reading and discussion of the book I Am Jazz — the true story of transgender teen Jazz Jennings — to help the students understand their classmate's transition, the newspaper reported.
In a letter to parents sent on Nov. 19 and obtained by The Cap Times, school principal Rachael Johnson told parents they would read I Am Jazz in class to "foster respect and support" among the children.
"We have been working with the family of a student on your child’s floor who identifies as a girl, but has male anatomy," Johnson wrote in part. "We refer to this as having a girl brain and a boy body. Together we have come up with a plan to support this student in living as her authentic self."
But a day later, the school received an angry letter from religious group Liberty Counsel. The group demanded the school cancel the reading or face legal action for violating "parental constitutional rights."
The five-page letter calls being transgender "a psychological and moral disorder" and claims students will be subjected to "propaganda having no basis in science or reality."
Expecting other students to call their transgender classmate "her" or "she" "infringes upon the other students’ rights to tell the truth, in accordance with their religious convictions, and reality," the letter said.
Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Liberty Counsel as a hate group due to their anti-LGBT rhetoric.
After receiving the letter, the school cancelled the reading.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the district said the school's original plan was cancelled pending further discussion with officials and parents. The district didn't specify what the original plan was.
"We respect our parents’ need to have the opportunity to review and discuss information the school may provide to their children in advance of such activities," the statement said. "Accordingly, we have chosen not to proceed as originally planned and allow the Board of Education the opportunity to review the needs of all involved, and address a situation for which the district has no current policy."
The mother of the girl told the Journal the reading’s cancellation “was not a surprise" but that the school has been great to work with.
But after the cancellation, the local community is taking a stand to support the girl in their own way.
Community members are planning two public readings of I Am Jazz to support the girl.
Parent Amy Lyle, who has a child at the school, told BuzzFeed News she heard about the incident on local radio and will hold her own reading of the book at Mount Horeb Library on Wednesday.
"When we heard about the lawsuit we felt angry and concerned that an identified hate group would try to insert themselves into our community, threaten our teachers and school district, and try to intimidate others," Lyle said. “We believe Mount Horeb to be an accepting place for all children.”
Another reading will be conducted by Mount Horeb High School’s Straight and Gay Alliance on Wednesday, according to the Journal.
The girl's mother told the Journal that her daughter just wants to be "accepted, included, and not bullied."
“We want people to remember that at the center of all of this is a child and her family," she said.
UPDATE (Friday, Dec. 4):
More than 600 people, including I Am Jazz author Jessica Herthel, attended the Mount Horeb library for a reading of the book on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society,” Herthel told the Journal. “I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.”
Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alicia Melville-Smith at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.