Egads! I realized that I haven’t added a new post since Sunday. I guess I could chalk it up to the January blahs and the recent lack of inspiration for writing. But I think it has more to do with the difficulty of trying to blow your nose while typing. Yeah, do you recall my post about getting a cold right after Christmas? Well, that cold hit me again this week. And, boy, did it come back with a vengeance: Aches and pains all over, sore throat, nasal congestion to the hilt. These symptoms took more of a toll on me this week than it did last week.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this on here before, but you can really tell a cold is hitting you when you suddenly feel woozy. Sure, you may have some minor soreness and congestion beforehand, but suddenly you feel as if someone or something just played a round of Spin the Bottle with your head. After that, that’s when the aches and sniffles and such really, really get on you (and your nerves if you let it).
As of this writing, I think the worst of this cold has subsided somewhat, but I don’t feel quite out of its grip just yet. There’s a little bit of coughing and still a little bit of stuffiness, but at least the aches aren’t the worst. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until this cold really goes away.
Rather than make this post all about me and my cold, I want to highlight a little bit of LGBT news from these parts that’s over a month old but deserves to be highlighted before its forgotten. The news occurred in Mount Horeb, a mainly rural town of about 7,000 population located about 25 miles west of Madison. It is at an elementary school in Mount Horeb where a 6-year-old has begun to transition in gender from a boy to a girl. To help the girl feel accepted, and to help her classmates understand her situation, school staffers thought back in November that it’d be a good idea to read to them “I Am Jazz,” a book co-authored by transgender girl and reality TV star Jazz Jennings.
However, the plans to read “I Am Jazz” to the students went a bit awry when some religious group I’m sure you’ve never heard of (and I didn’t previously) wrote to the Mount Horeb School District and asked them to refrain from doing so — and using the threat of a lawsuit if they didn’t. It was the contention of this “Liberty Counsel” that parents of the students were “caught off guard” by the advance notice of the planned reading (yes, the parents were notified), and that some “concerned parents” (nothing more specific than that?) threatened to sue because… well, you’re gonna shake your head when you hear these “parents'” reasoning: They threatened to sue because the planned discussion of the book violated their constitutional right “to direct the upbringing of their children,” and that any requirement to refer to the trans student by their preferred pronoun (“she” and “her,” in this girl’s case) threatened their First Amendment rights to “tell the truth” (note the air quotes there) and refer to the student by their birth gender (“he” and “him”).
It was probably the threat of a lawsuit that prompted the school district to
chicken out cancel their planned reading/discussion of “I Am Jazz.” Officially, the district said they needed to think things through so that the student’s needs could be addressed while respecting the needs of the other students and their families. (More on that later.)
But if one thought the issue would end right there with the cancellation of the reading… well, one would be totally wrong. On a Wednesday afternoon in early December, 200 people came out to the local high school grounds for a reading of “I Am Jazz.” Another separately organized reading at the local public library later that night drew a crowd of 600. That second number was so staggering of a turnout that it caught the event’s organizer by surprise; she only expected a crowd of about 15 people, thinking everyone was probably busy with their lives and not because they didn’t have compassion.
A couple of noteworthy things about that second reading of “I Am Jazz” (the one at the public library): For one, the event had two noteworthy participants, one being Jessica Herthel, who co-authored the book with Jazz Jennings and flew in from California to lend support to the family of the TG girl. As well, a discussion on how a community can welcome LGBT students was led by a representative from the Human Rights Campaign. Plus, you get a sense not just from the volume of the turnout but from the words of some interviewed and quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal report on the event that there are a great many of those in Mount Horeb that are supportive of letting a transgender student be themselves. One person at the event, described as a 72-year-old, said he “came here to learn [about]… this stuff” and will continue to educate himself about the issue, but that (and this is his direct quote), “I truly feel we have to express more love in this world.” Really, it’s an incredible story from Mount Horeb, and a sign that there are those who are not as closed-minded as you would automatically think in such a rural town.
Which is not to say that there aren’t those in Mount Horeb who do have concerns about their children (or grandchildren) sharing facilities with kids who happen to be transgender. A couple of such people let their voice be heard before the Mount Horeb School Board a few days after the “I Am Jazz” events, but it didn’t dissuade the board from approving, in a unanimous vote, new measures to accommodate transgender students, including the addition of “transgender status” as a protected category in their nondiscrimination policy and allowing trans students to play in physical education and intramural events consistent with their gender identity.
But what about the transgender girl in question and her parents? Well, they haven’t publicly identified themselves, choosing (and rightly so, if you ask me) to protect their daughter’s identity and their family’s well being. They have, however, talked to the State Journal on at least one occasion (on the grounds that the paper protect their anonymity), revealing that they agreed with school officials and a school psychologist that reading “I Am Jazz” to the girl’s classmates was a good option to integrate the child’s identity transition to her classmates. And though they went through some emotional ups and downs with the school’s cancellation of the reading and the subsequent news coverage, their daughter has changed for the better. Oh, sure, they say she still has a cute smile and gets along well with her classmates (and they get along well with her), but she is much happier and talkative now that she has transitioned. Really, check out that interview; it’s an incredible read.