School calls in counsellors after children were read ‘inappropriate’ storybook about a transgender child

Emma Powys Maurice
·3-min read

A school in Texas has called in counsellors and issued a formal apology after a teacher read an “inappropriate” storybook about a transgender child.

Parents were outraged after it emerged that fourth-graders at Forest Trail Elementary in Austin, Texas had been read Call Me Max by Stonewall Award-winning author Kyle Lukoff.

The sweet illustrated book tells the story of a young transgender boy who begins to make friends as he comes to terms with his identity. This was enough to prompt a flurry of complaints from parents, who demanded the teacher in question be fired.

“We had some parents [who] came to us and said, ‘Why was this shown, is this in your curriculum, where is this in your curriculum’. It wasn’t,” said school district superintendent Tom Leonard.

Chief learning officer Susan Fambrough explained that the story had been included on a list of diverse books circulated among teachers, but was “not appropriate to be read aloud to an entire elementary-age class,” according to Today.

The book was actually written by an elementary school librarian for a kindergarten to third grade audience – but the school district felt it necessary to offer counsellors to “support” any children who had been exposed to it.

“Counsellors were made available to support students, and the school administration worked with families to provide an explanation and reassurances,” Fambrough wrote in a letter to parents.

Other parents and transgender advocates called the district’s response “a terrible message” for transgender children.

“It tells them that they must be invisible, that they can’t talk about who they are, that they are unworthy,” said Jo Ivester, a mother of a trans son who went to school in the district.

She says a book like Call Me Max would have changed her son’s life.

Lukoff, the book’s author, compared offering counsellors to students to what a school might do after a major disaster.

“I spent eight years as an elementary school librarian, and am familiar with the situations where resources are expended to ensure the wellbeing of students and families – after the Sandy Hook shooting, for example, or after a death in the school, or some other crisis,” he wrote in a letter to the school.

“Do you believe that a read-aloud about a transgender child is an equivalent trauma? How do you think transgender people in your community felt having their identities treated like a disaster?

“Do you provide similar resources after a student in your district experiences homophobia or transphobia?”

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Lukoff’s book also caused controversy in Utah last month when a teacher read it to a third-grade class. The ensuing outrage prompted the entire school district to suspend an inclusive literacy program.

Only two of the 38 books on the program’s list were directly about the LGBT+ community, and Call Me Max wasn’t even one of them.