News (USA)

School kicks trans teen out of high school musical because he wasn’t born a boy

Sherman High School
Sherman High School Photo: Screenshot / KXII

A Texas high school says that a transgender student will no longer be allowed to play the male lead in a student production of Oklahoma!

Max Hightower, a senior at Sherman High School in Sherman, Texas (about 65 miles north of Dallas), was cast as the male lead in the classic musical last month, according to KXII. “It was a beautiful day,” Max’s father, Phillip Hightower told the local CBS affiliate.

But days after Max landed the role, Phillip Hightower says that the school’s principal called to inform him that his son would not be allowed to play the role after all due to a new policy. Hightower says he was told that “actors and actresses could only play a role that was the same gender they were assigned at birth.”

Hightower said that he was “devastated,” describing the effort Max has put into the school’s Bearcat Theater program throughout high school. He said that his son has previously been allowed to “dress up as male” when cast in historically female supporting roles, and noted that cross-gender casting has always been a part of theater.

“All kinds of actors have played all kinds of parts,” Hightower said.

In a statement on Monday, Sherman Independent School District said that it was postponing the production of Oklahoma!, which was originally scheduled for December, until sometime after January 15, 2024.

“It was brought to the District’s attention that the current production contained mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, all aspects of the production need to be reviewed, including content, stage production/props, and casting to ensure that the production is appropriate for the high school stage.”

The script of the original stage musical does include sexual themes, sexual innuendo, violence, murder, drunkenness, and nonconsensual drugging.

It went on to clarify that “There is no policy on how students are assigned to roles.”

“As it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting,” the statement read. “Because the nature and subject matter of productions vary, the District is not inclined to apply this criteria to all future productions.”

Hightower told KXII that his son is taking the news in stride.

“I expected him to be crying, but no, Max is a fighter,” he said, adding that the family is determined to fight the policy and see Max reclaim the lead role in Oklahoma! “I want every kid to be recognized and noticed and allowed to be themselves,” Hightower said.

In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law a bill that would have criminalized “sexually explicit” performances in the presence of minors, defining such performances as those in which “a male performer [is] exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male.” A federal judge struck down the law in September, ruling that it “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.”

Similar laws have been blocked by courts in Florida, Tennessee, and Montana, with critics claiming they amount to bans on drag performances and can also be interpreted as banning transgender people from performing onstage.

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