As part of an anti-bullying curriculum, a school district in North Carolina planned to teach Jacob's New Dress - a picture book about a boy who wears a dress to school one day - to first grade students. But after facing complaints from teachers and even state lawmakers, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have pulled the book from the curriculum, replacing it instead with one about a crayon.
The book, which is about a boy who gets teased by classmates after electing to dress "like a girl" at school one day, sounds like it would've been a great addition to an anti-bullying program for 7-year-old kids. Unfortunately, angry teachers and conservative groups have ensured that message won't be disseminated to young students.
"The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses," Tami Fitzgerald of the conservative group North Carolina Values Coalition told the Charlotte Observer. "These lessons found in the ‘Jacob’s New Dress’ and ‘My Princess Boy’ and other transgender curriculum are not appropriate for any child whose parents support traditional family values."
According to the Charlotte Observer, Charles Jeter, the district’s government liaison and former Republican state representative, listened to "both sides" after hearing complaints about the book from teachers. On March 21, he emailed "about two dozen Republican legislators" to say his district would be pulling Jacob's New Dress from its curriculum.
To be clear, the book's protagonist, Jacob, never identifies himself as transgender. But amid the backlash over an illustrated book for kids, the authors of Jacob's New Dress - Sarah and Ian Hoffman - have been forced to clarify that reading a book can't "turn someone gay."
“The idea that a book can turn someone gay or transgender is bizarre to us," Sarah Hoffman told the Charlotte Observer. "Reading a book can’t turn you gay."
All the calamity over this children's book comes at an incredibly divisive time for North Carolina. Just a year ago, the state voted to pass the controversial bathroom bill, House Bill 2, which strips protections from people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity. The bill undid a previously standing ordinance in Charlotte (where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is based) that protected transgender residents who chose to use public restrooms based on gender identity.
The Hoffmans told the Charlotte Observer they find it ironic that a book about "love and acceptance" is being met in North Carolina with "hate and discrimination."
"North Carolina seems like a very divided state. And I sense a lot of fear,” Sarah Hoffman said. "We like that this conversation is being had. It’s why we wrote the book. In this case, it’s a forced conversation."
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