A North Carolina school district was going to use a book about a boy who wears dresses as part of its first grade curriculum on bullying. Wouldn’t that have been nice! Instead, school administrators pulled the book, called Jacob’s New Dress, following complaints from teachers and eventually, lawmakers.
The book, in which the title character is teased by boys in his class for wearing “girl clothes,” sounds like an ideal lesson in anti-bullying, would it have been allowed to reach students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, one of the largest school systems in the state.
But conservative groups—namely, the North Carolina Values Coalition—caught wind of the book’s place on the reading list, and panicked over what they perceived was its attempt to “normalize transgender behavior.” From the Charlotte Observer:
“The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses,” Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition said Tuesday.
“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.”
From there, the dust up quickly made its way to the state’s lawmakers. As Charles Jeter, the district’s governmental liaison, told the Washington Post. “I got a call that it was brought up in the House Republican caucus Monday night, which is never a good thing,” he said. The book was pulled shortly thereafter, replaced by the more anodyne Red: A Crayon’s Story, in which the main character is not a human at all, but a crayon.
The books authors, a married couple named Sarah and Ian Hoffman, have a message for the squeamish parents and teachers who insisted the book was inappropriate for its young audience:
“The idea that a book can turn someone gay or transgender is bizarre to us. Reading a book can’t turn you gay,” Sarah Hoffman told the Charlotte Observer. She goes on:
“If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King Jr., will they become black? This book is about a little boy who wears a dress, something outside of traditional gender roles, much like the idea of a girl wearing pants was 100 years ago. It’s about following your heart.”
The Hoffmans, who live in California, told the paper that they find it ironic that a book about “love and acceptance” is being met with “a message of hate and discrimination.”
“North Carolina seems like a very divided state. And I sense a lot of fear,” Sarah said. “We like that this conversation is being had. It’s why we wrote the book. In this case, it’s a forced conversation.”