Next week, thousands of parents, educators and allies across the nation will stand in solidarity with transgender students by hosting school and community readings of I Am Jazz, a children’s book by transgender teen trailblazer Jazz Jennings. Following a year of unprecedented attacks on the rights and dignity of transgender young people -- including the Trump Administration’s rescission of protective school guidance for transgender students -- the day of readings are intended to foster safe and welcoming schools and communities for young people.
The second annual National I Am Jazz School and Community Readings effort will take place on Thursday, May 18, in scores of cities and towns. The nationwide action is sponsored by the Welcoming Schools Program at the HRC Foundation and the National Educational Association (NEA), the country’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3 million educators across the United States.
Over the past year, transgender people have faced significant attacks by extremist state legislators and, recently, by the federal government. In 2016, North Carolina passed the discriminatory HB2 legislation that, among its provisions, restricted the rights of transgender people to access restrooms consistent with their gender identity in public buildings, including schools. And in 2017, just weeks after taking office, President Donald Trump rescinded lifesaving guidance issued the previous year by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education ensuring that transgender students would be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
“Transgender youth deserve to know that their schools and communities stand with them,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training. “I Am Jazz is a joyful book that kids love and it’s a great tool for educators, parents and anyone who wants to lead with love in these challenging times. The local readings that will take place across the country send a powerful message to transgender youth that they are seen, affirmed and valued.”
“Educators proudly will stand with transgender youth across the country on May 18. This day – and every day – is a welcoming opportunity for educators, schools and communities to send a powerful message of love, support and affirmation for transgender students,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
The co-authors of I Am Jazz, Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, joined HRC to discuss their motivations for writing the book and their hopes for the school and community readings:
The national day of readings was inspired by the more than 600 residents of tiny Mount Horeb, WI., who unequivocally rebuked bigotry and censorship in 2015, showing up at a public reading of I Am Jazz. The reading was organized by a caring parent after legal threats by an anti-LGBTQ hate group forced a local school to cancel plans to support a transgender student by reading the book in class.
Days later, the Mount Horeb school board adopted inclusive measures fully accommodating transgender students. Said one board member: “We will not be intimidated, and we will teach tolerance and will be accepting to everyone.”
HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier resource for professional development tools, lessons and resources that help elementary schools across the nation embrace family diversity, be LGBTQ-inclusive, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender expansive students. HRC’s Welcoming Schools has created this guide to help organizers of I Am Jazz reading events build more affirming and supportive spaces for transgender and gender-expansive youth across the country.
For more information on National I Am Jazz School and Community Readings, visit www.hrc.org/IAmJazz.