Thursday, February 27 marked the fifth annual “Jazz & Friends National Day of School and Community Readings.” The event is co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the largest LGBT activist group in the nation, and the National Education Association (NEA), the largest labor union in the U.S. with almost 3 million members.
HRC and NEA made books and lesson plans available through HRC’s Welcoming Schools Program. The two organizations encourage educators, parents, community leaders, and faith communities to host readings in local schools, churches and libraries, in order to “support transgender, non-binary and gender expansive youth.”
Three books were recommended for reading to elementary school children: Julián Is a Mermaid, They She He easy as ABC and I Am Jazz.
Julián Is a Mermaid tells about a young boy who fantasizes about being a mermaid. His Nana encourages his dressing up, gives him a necklace, and takes him to a parade where individuals are dressed up as all kinds of sea creatures.
According to PinkNews, mermaids “ have become symbolic to transgender people and their allies: They are depicted with nothing below their waists but a tail, while the Disney film The Little Mermaid has a main character who wants to change form—echoing the feelings of some trans people.”
They She He easy as ABC explains pronoun options to young children. A child can choose to be a he, she or they – or maybe even “a tree.”
I Am Jazz is a picture book about Jazz Jennings, a boy who believes he’s a girl. The book explains to children that Jazz has “a girl brain but a boy body.” The transgender reading day made headlines last year when a transgender activist read I Am Jazz to kindergarteners at a Virginia elementary school. The activist, a man who identifies as a woman, was accompanied by Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA.
School officials, and some media outlets, claimed that parents were notified beforehand and given a chance to opt their children out of the lesson. But the letter, written to parents at a school with a large population where English is a second language, did not make that option available to parents and offered no method for removing a child from the book reading.
This year, the Arlington Parent Coalition pushed back against the event. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, writes that the group urged parents to keep children at home for the day, rather than hear books advocating gender fluidity and promoting the idea that a child can change from one sex to the other.
The coalition contacted area schools in Northern Virginia to find out which were involved, and found some schools were still hosting the transgender reading event. They also found that “mystery readers” were coming to one local school. “These mystery readers are reported to be parents, but the books they will bring to read are not being vetted ahead of time,” they reported. The group has ideas for other parents who want to start similar networks in their local communities.
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