TX school bans transgender boy from playing “Oklahoma!” male lead, recasts with cis male student

A transgender student in Texas has lost the lead role in his high school’s theater production of “Oklahoma!” due to the school’s recently implemented gender policy for students.

Max Hightower, a 17-year-old senior at Sherman High School in Sherman, Texas, landed the lead role of Curly in the play last month, his father, Phillip Hightower, told local CBS affiliate KXII. Shortly after Hightower’s casting, however, the student was replaced when the school’s principal, Scott Johnston, called Hightower’s father about a new gender policy for student performers.

“Actors and actresses could only play a role that was the same gender they were assigned at birth,” Hightower recounted the conversation. Under the policy, Hightower, who is a transgender boy, could no longer be cast as the male lead — or play any male roles. Hightower was promptly replaced in the production by a cisgender male student.

Hightower’s father said his son has been a longstanding member of Sherman High’s Bearcat theater group, in which he previously played historically female supporting characters.

“But they allowed Max to dress up as a male,” Hightower said.

Sherman Independent School District (SISD) said in a statement that for the production of “Oklahoma!,” “the gender of the role as identified in the script will be used for casting,” which conspicuously does not address transgender versus cisgender identity.

“It was brought to the District’s attention that the current production contained mature adult themes, profane language and sexual content,” SISD wrote in its statement, which still doesn’t explain the recasting. “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.

“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. Because the nature and subject matter of productions vary, the District is not inclined to apply this criteria to all future productions.”

SISD added that it will postpone the public performances of “Oklahoma!” from Dec. 8-10 to a later date, expected to be some time after Jan. 15, 2024. Until then, SISD “will be working diligently to produce ‘Oklahoma!’ as a musical that is appropriate for the high school stage.”

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Sherman High’s recent gender policy underscores a series of setbacks that transgender youth nationwide have been facing in recent years. Laws that prohibit trans children from using bathrooms that match their gender identities have been passed in states like Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Numerous bills have also been backed by conservative lawmakers in an attempt to limit LGBTQ+ people’s rights, healthcare and even proper pronoun usage.

Earlier this year, the North Dakota House of Representatives introduced a bill that would fine anyone who works at institutions that receive state funding (like public schools) as much as $1,500 for using pronouns for trans people that don’t match the gender that the person was assigned at birth.

There’s also Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ harmful “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans education about sexual orientation and gender identity in some Florida classrooms.

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