A sign for Texas against a blue sky.

Texas Schoolboard Reverses Appalling Policy Banning Trans Student From School Musical

A small right after a really stupid wrong.

A trans teen in Texas was forced out of his role in the local high school’s production of Oklahoma! because he was playing a character that didn’t match his “sex assigned at birth.” This week, after local and national pushback, the school board voted unanimously to reinstate him

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Brad Morgan, President of the Sherman Independent School District Board of Trustees, said in a statement, “We understand that our decision does not erase the impact this had on our community.” He added, “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.”

Max Hightower, 17, was initially removed from his role as Ali Hakim when the principal announced that, according to a new policy, “Only males can play males, and only females can play females.” In keeping with this “new policy,” multiple cis students initially lost their roles as well. As anyone who has done theater in high school will tell you, actors frequently play roles across genders. And no one much cared, until waves of anti-trans legislation swept the country. Texas, a hotbed of transphobic legislation, recently saw its drag ban overturned. But many cruel policies, like the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors, are currently in place.

In reaction to the pushback, the school switched course and tried reversing the re-casting decision. Instead, they changed the version of the play to a tamer “youth” version, called an “adaptation for pre-high school students” that cut out Max’s solo and references to “adult” themes, and removed the gendered name from Max’s character. This decision didn’t feel right to the performers.

“I think it’s insulting. I think it’s still targeting Max. I think they chose the version that would have Max in it the least, “Amy Hightower, Max’s mom, told the Texas Tribune. The school board voted to revoke the changes and apologize after national attention in the media and a barrage of impassioned speakers in the school board meeting compelled them.

Unfortunate incidents involving anti-trans policies at an institutional level are on the rise across the country as more and more states are passing anti-trans laws that pave the way for such hateful policies. According to reporting from Axios, as of March 2023, Texas led the nation in anti-trans legislation in the state house and senate. 

Hightower, however, reported being surprised it was happening in a school where he had formerly felt relatively safe. “I had only seen stuff like this on the news,” Hightower told the Washington Post earlier in November. “And I didn’t think it would happen in our school because nothing had happened before.” 

(featured image: gguy44/Getty Images)

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Cammy Pedroja
Author and independent journalist since 2015. Frequent contributor of news and commentary on social justice, politics, culture, and lifestyle to publications including The Mary Sue, Newsweek, Business Insider, Slate, Women, USA Today, and Huffington Post. Lover of forests, poetry, books, champagne, and trashy TV.