Book About Gender Identity Causes Uproar Within CMS

CMS agrees to pull book 'Jacob's New Dress' from elementary schools.

Dress up: It's one of those things most kids play when they are young. Typical costumes include superheroes, princesses, a slew of Disney characters and the occasional pirate. When there's a house of boys and girls, costumes can get combined. It can be silly fun to mix-match a tutu with a sword or a tiara with a superhero outfit. It's kids using their imaginations, which is a good thing.

Then there are some boys that may feel a stronger push to wear the tutu or girls who feel more secure in the Batman costume. Sometimes these are passing whims, sometimes they aren't. The book "Jacob's New Dress" was written to help children understand differences — that is the difference in a child who is one gender that may identify with another. The book stands out because it breaks away from the usual children's stories, and delves into why Jacob wants to wear a dress to school.

The book was introduced to be part of four Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary schools as a tool for teaching children about differences to help prevent bullying. The story, however, is one some parents prefer not be discussed in school as it goes against their belief system. A teacher complained and then politicians in Raleigh bucked. It follows the storyline of divide that still swirls around the HB2 Bathroom Bill, which also affects children at school.

CMS has agreed to pull the book from schools. It is still including the book "Red: A Crayon's Story" about a blue crayon mislabeled as red. Subtle. 

 I'm all for difference and also all for a world of different beliefs, but school is a place for my child to experience difference — difference of personalities, races, cultures and beliefs. A melting pot of school peers is representative of our world, which is also a melting pot that I want him to be aware of, not unsure of. The book may cause people to feel uncomfortable as it takes explanation, but isn't explanation part of teaching and learning? And for the Jacobs out there who want to wear a dress and Janes who may want to wear a tool belt, mockery and lack of understanding for their feelings is also uncomfortable, even hurtful. 

See also: Two Local Moms Open up About Parenting a Transgender Child

The discussion about the book drew my attention to the new Welcoming Schools program. A project of the HRC Foundation, the program hopes to grow an inclusive respect in elementary schools for understanding family diversity, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students. Within the program, there are books, lessons and tools to help teachers and parents answer kids' "challenging questions." Rather than avoid the questions, why not answer them? Seems more help than harm in that. Part of parenting is answering challenging questions, all of which change depending on a child's age.

Throughout time, books have been banned from libraries and schools, including "Huckleberry Finn" and "Gone With the Wind," because they stirred an uncomfortable feeling with too much realism by delving into taboo subjects of race, culture, profanity, sexual orientation and, well, real life. But in the end bad publicity is publicity, and it gets people talking. I hope the conversation continues amongst parents, teachers and children about respect — respect regardless of differences. Remember The Golden Rule and no one deserves to be bullied.