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A Texas school district has reversed a decision to bar a transgender boy from playing a male role in a school production of “Oklahoma!” after a backlash.
The Sherman Independent School Board initially paused the play after asserting that roles had to be played by students in accordance with their gender.
Several girls who were initially assigned to male roles were also barred from doing so.
“As it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting,” the district said in a statement last week.
The district asserted that the script contained mature themes inappropriate for high schoolers — and scenes where characters kiss, according to the Dallas Morning News.
A district source said some parents and students initially voiced their concerns to school officials, but later quieted as the controversy drew deadlines.
The transgender student, Max Hightower, told his parents that he would not be allowed to play a male role, and the family publicized their objections.
“This was the biggest role Max ever had, this was a solo,” his father, Philip Hightower, told the local ABC affiliate before the reversal. “This would’ve been the culmination of his career.”
After an initial uproar, the school said it would allow roles to be filled regardless of gender — but said Friday that the production would instead use a “youth” version of the play that would temper mature content.
But the board was compelled to abandon that plan after an emotional board meeting Monday where dozens of speakers backed Hightower and the use of the original script.
Only one person questioned the use of the adult version.
“I’m transgender, I’m risking coming out to my entire homophobic family for this because this is a hill I will die on!” one speaker stated.
“Reinstate the real version of ‘Oklahoma!’ and let the students sing!” another speaker said to applause.
The parade of Hightower’s backers argued that the board was alienating LGBTQ students in the community and heighten suicide risks.
A district source said they had been contacted by parents who were uncomfortable with the production — but they failed to materialize at the meeting.
The panel went into a private session after the end of the public comment period before voting unanimously to reinstate the original cast and standard version of the production.
“It was emotional and empowering,” Hightower said later according to the Dallas Morning News. “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 President Brad Morgan later released a statement.
“We want to apologize to our students, parents and our community regarding the circumstances that they have had to go through to this date,” the statement read. “We understand that our decision does not erase the impact this had on our community, but we hope that we will reinforce to everyone, particularly our students, that we do embrace all of our Board goals, to include addressing the diverse needs of our students and empowering them for success in a diverse and complex world.