A teacher’s act of reading out a book about a transgender child to a class of third graders in Utah has set off extreme backlash from parents. The school district Murray, in response, has suspended a program aimed at introducing kids to more diverse and inclusive literature.
A student at Horizon Elementary brought a book called Call Me Max to class and asked the teacher to read it aloud during story time. The illustrated book recounts the story of a young transgender boy who educates his teacher and classmates about his identity. The story starts with the teacher calling out names on attendance sheet. The teacher hesitates to call out his name so Max tells her that he would like to be known as Max and the teacher complies.
Murray School District spokesperson Doug Perry noted that students had asked her questions, even puberty-related ones, while the teacher was reading the book. The teacher deflected the questions for the most part, he said. But parents were furious that the story was read out to children at all.
“It’s only a problem if you think that being transgender is itself wrong,” said Kyle Lukoff, author of Call Me Max. “[The identity of transgender children] is also not something they have to get past or overcome. It’s just a larger part of their life that indicates who they are but doesn’t dictate who they have to be,” he said to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. Lukoff believes that the story is written for a third grade audience.
The equity book program was meant to address race and racism. Its aim was to introduce students to more authors of colour. The decision to suspend it falls at the start of Black History Month.
“This is purely coincidental,” said Perry. “We certainly honour and revere Black History Month as an important part of our education.”
Call Me Max is a great initiative at challenging stereotypes. Although the district’s response is understandable, it is also important to acknowledge the identity of children from different races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation.
“I think it’s really important to be an openly trans person writing books for kids so that all kids can see that no matter who they are, they can grow up to be writers and artists and just adults without hiding that part of their identity,” Lukoff has said.