A Texas school board that received immense criticism for barring a transgender student from playing a male role in his high school’s production of Oklahoma! has reversed course, allowing the original casting decisions to stand.
On November 13, the Sherman Independent School District board voted to reinstate the original script and cast for the musical after local community members flooded the board’s regularly scheduled meeting to defend the casting of Max Hightower, a transgender male, as the peddler Ali Hakim.
According to Dallas-area ABC affiliate WFAA, more than 60 people spoke in support of Hightower and slammed the board’s decision to prohibit not only Hightower but all students from playing roles that don’t match their assigned sex at birth.
Administrators had interceded after several students were cast in cross-gender roles, citing a nonexistent district policy as justification for recasting the musical.
Sherman High School administrators also insisted that the musical contained “mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content,” and the production would have to be postponed for a month while the musical was rewritten to create a more “age-appropriate version.”
But local community members weren’t buying the administrators’ explanation, with speaker after speaker denouncing the recasting decision and the decision to rewrite the musical.
Speakers criticized the board for caving to perceived political and social pressure to enforce rigid gender roles in school productions.
“I’ve played male roles in the past and it was no big deal — and guess what, that’s theater!” one actress told the board.
“Reinstate the real version of Oklahoma! and let the students sing!” said another commenter.
Following the public comment section of the meeting, the board went into a private, closed-door session to discuss the matter.
“It was emotional and empowering,” Max Hightower told WFAA of the overwhelming support he’d received from fellow students and community members. “I didn’t expect there to be no hate at all…. To know there is a big group out of people who want to help me, and help everyone affected, it feels like we’re on even sides now and can actually win this fight.”
When the board members returned, all seven unanimously voted to reinstate the original casting and script of Oklahoma!
“We want to apologize to our students, parents, and our community regarding the circumstances that they have had to go through to this date,” Sherman ISD Board President Brad Morgan said in a statement following the vote.
“We understand that our decision does not erase the impact this had on our community, but we hope that we will reinforce to everyone, particularly our students, that we do embrace all of our Board goals, to include addressing the diverse needs of our students and empowering them for success in a diverse and complex world,” he continued. “The Board is committed to uphold its ethical duties to include being continuously guided by what is best for all students in our District.”
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