A transgender student in Texas who was barred from playing a male character in his school musical has won back his role after a public outcry.
Max Hightower, a senior at Sherman High School, was cast as Ali Hakim, a Persian peddler, in the musical “Oklahoma!” However, the school principal changed the policy and said that students could only play roles that match their sex assigned at birth, effectively removing Max from his role.
The decision sparked backlash from the students, parents, and the public, who protested and petitioned for Max’s reinstatement. They argued that the policy was discriminatory and violated Max’s rights to express his gender identity and artistic talent.
The school board later reversed the policy and allowed Max to keep his role, as well as instructed the school to use the original version of the musical, not a youth version that cut Max’s solo.
Max said he was happy and grateful for the support he received, and that he hoped his story would inspire other transgender students to pursue their dreams.
“I’m just glad that I get to do what I love and be who I am at the same time,” he said.
Max’s case drew attention from local and national media, as well as from civil rights and LGBTQ advocacy groups, who praised the school board’s decision and condemned the initial policy.
“We are proud of the courage and resilience shown by Max and his family in the face of discrimination and harassment,” said Adri Perez, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which offered legal assistance to Max.
“We believe that every student deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that includes being able to participate in extracurricular activities that match their gender identity,” said Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, a group that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This is a victory for Max and for all transgender students in Texas who want to express themselves through the arts,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, a LGBTQ advocacy group.
However, not everyone was pleased with the outcome. Some conservative groups and individuals criticized the school board for caving in to pressure and compromising the integrity of the musical.
“We are disappointed that the school board chose to cave in to pressure from a vocal minority, rather than uphold the values of academic excellence and integrity,” said Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, a conservative group that opposed Max’s participation.
“They are sending a message that the feelings of one student are more important than the artistic vision of the original creators and the educational experience of the entire cast and crew,” he said.
The musical is scheduled to be performed on Nov. 18 and 19 at the school auditorium. Max said he was looking forward to singing his solo and sharing the stage with his friends.
“I hope people will come and see the show and enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a classic musical with a lot of fun and humor, and I think everyone can relate to it in some way.”
– After controversy, Texas school board says transgender student can sing in school musical, The Texas Tribune, Nov. 10, 2023
– Texas School Will Allow Trans Student In Musical After Major Backlash, MSN, Nov. 15, 2023
– Texas school board reverses decision to ban trans student from musical, The Guardian, Nov. 15, 2023
– Trans kids lost roles in Texas school musical — until their parents went to bat for them, CBC, Nov. 15, 2023