School wants to read Jazz Jennings’ trans book to first graders
I am jazz – the 2014 autobiographical children’s picture book about Jazz Jennings’ life as a transgender girl and precursor to the ever-popular TLC Reality TV Show of the same name – is no stranger to controversy. In 2020, in fact, because of the many times people have tried to remove it from schools and libraries, I am jazz was named one of the most banned and contested books of the decade. It was a distinction, Jennings told Yahoo Life at the time, that she found “both disappointing and honorable.”
Now that pattern continues in Bellingham, Wash., Where a reading of the book by a teacher to her first-grade class shoved a hornet’s nest – but with most of the buzz, apparently, coming from outside the community.
“In my experience,” longtime District Mum Heather Davidson told Yahoo Life, “our community is a truly unique pocket of acceptance and appreciation for diversity in all its forms.” So, she adds, “The vitriolic thrown at our educators, the president and superintendent of the school board and the community in which I live, serve and work is so disheartening.
This vitriol appears to have taken hold after an anonymous caller notified the Curator’s ‘Campus Bias Council’ Young America Foundation, prompting them to post a story on their website; it was later picked up by conservative publications including the Post millenniumand the Daily Wire.
In the original story, there is a screenshot of an exchange between an unhappy relative from Bellingham, which refers to I am jazz and asks, “Have you read this book to the first graders today?” and the teacher, who replies, “Yes, I read the book. It is available in our school library as part of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion collection. As a district, we work hard to support all members of our school community and promote inclusion through understanding and compassion. I will be happy to answer any questions or voice your concerns. “
Following the story, school district spokeswoman Dana Smith told the Bellingham Herald, “We get all kinds of messages, including some that are more hateful.” Targets also included school board chairwoman Jenn Mason, who has been named in YAF history as the owner of a local sex shop that aims to show people that “sex is not something.” to be ashamed ”as proof of why she“ did nothing ”about the alleged controversy. But, Mason told the Herald, “Most hate speech doesn’t come from people in our community.”
Members of the school community, in fact, doubled their support for teacher reading from I am jazz and transgender youth in general. Superintendent Greg Baker posted a lengthy statement on the school district’s website about how the national “attention” around the Mason Book and Shop “sparks hate speech and harassment based on our values in as a district and our commitment to equitable, diverse and inclusive education. . ”
Regarding the book, he continues: “Reading various books and learning all kinds of lives are consistent with our values in our strategic plan, Bellingham’s promise. We believe that all children should be loved and we believe that diversity enhances a strong and healthy community. Regarding the treatment of school staff, he writes: “Our staff are the backbone of our education system, and we support all who engage in this key work on equity, diversity and inclusion. . Our zero tolerance policy regarding harassment, bullying and bullying for our students applies to the treatment of any member of our organization who results in their harassment, bullying or bullying. We treat all adults, students and families in Bellingham Public Schools with dignity and respect. Smith directed Yahoo Life to the online statement.
This position has won public praise from many members of the community, including at least one district teacher, who took to his popular TikTok account “@twinteacher” to post a video – currently with over 281,500 views – noting, “I just feel really proud and very grateful to be working for the district in which I work.
On Twitter, another district employee said that “in response to anti-trans harassment … including the book I am jazz in the school curriculum and the anti-Semitic attacks on the chairman of the Bellingham public school board, many of my colleagues and I signed the following statement.
The statement states, in part, “unequivocal support from our community educators and policy makers to include transgender stories in the curriculum and in the library collections.” We strongly condemn efforts to continue to marginalize and exclude voices that do not conform to binary gender views. Additionally, we believe transgender voices and stories have been excluded from schools and libraries for too long, resulting in bullying and violence against the transgender community. In response to “hate speech” against I am jazz, he continues, “We are committed to redoubling our efforts to ensure that marginalized voices and stories are included in our library collections and incorporated into programs.”
It earned praise from Davidson, a college professor who has a second and fourth in the Bellingham district, as well as two grown children who were also educated there.
“When I see the school district in action [standing its ground], this is the experience we have as a family in the district… ”, she tells Yahoo Life, noting that during her 20 years as a parent in the district, she remains“ in position of gratitude ”.
She adds that many in her community are “just in awe of the response to what works so well in our community… especially when you consider the rates of self-harm among trans and non-binary youth… more 60% commit acts of self-harm… So if we think about inclusiveness and representation, it’s… hard for me to imagine coming from such a closed-minded and ignorant place.
The controversy also arises amid a nationwide barrage of anti-trans laws pushed or enacted in more than 30 states.
Davidson, while acknowledging that she speaks only for herself and from her experience, says that she has known Mason for 10 years and that they met while doing advocacy work for people who have. been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“She’s led all kinds of efforts in our community… And she works to provide inclusive spaces that de-stigmatize sex, which is a very human thing,” she says, noting that some of the conservative media coverage seems “Hooked” to her shop, proclaiming on social media that it’s “not scary”, noting that it must be if it says it isn’t. “What’s scary is keeping sex in the dark and having lousy stores where people slip in and out of dimly lit buildings and are embarrassed or ashamed of their sexuality,” Davidson says. “And that’s not what’s going on there.”
Like Mason, who did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, told the Bellingham Herald about her role in the community and how it relates to the current controversy, “Our store serves a lot of queer and trans people. I feel honored to play a role in their lives. She added, “If anything, all of this vitriol just shows how much extra work we need to do to support trans kids.”
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