A Washington state school district is circling the wagons amid complaints over a teacher who read a transgender-affirming children's book to first-grade students recently.
What are the details?
The hubbub unfolded after Young America's Foundation said it received an anonymous tip from a parent who provided a screenshot of an email exchange with the teacher who admitted to reading "I Am Jazz" to students.
"Yes, I did read this book," the teacher replied, according to the outlet. "As a district we are working hard to support all members of our school community and promote inclusion through understanding and compassion."
YAF said concerned parents reached out to officials with Bellingham Schools but no action was taken. The outlet added that one parent contacted Superintendent Greg Baker, who reportedly wouldn't engage over email but agreed to a phone call. However, YAF said Baker wouldn't conduct the phone call after the parent insisted on recording the conversation.
The Christian Post reported that the controversy at Geneva Elementary School culminated with the concerned parent "pulling his kid out of this teacher's class," according to an interview with YAF.
But Baker did eventually go public regarding the controversy on the district's website last week, and he praised "I Am Jazz" and touted the district's "values" as well as its "commitment to equitable, diverse and inclusive education."
"Our teachers share books with children that are age-appropriate and that provide insights into lives of people who are like them and people who are different from them," Baker wrote. "'I Am Jazz' is part of our library book collection in our elementary schools and has been in our libraries for several years. The message of 'I Am Jazz' is a child reflecting on their own gender identity and that all people are unique and wonderful."
What's the background on the book?
"I Am Jazz" caused a stir in 2015 when parents of some students at Mitchell Primary School in Kittery, Maine, criticized school officials for failing to notify them that their kids were to read the book. Superintendent of Schools Allyn Hutton said in a statement that the book was part of a lesson on "tolerance and respect."
The book's author Jazz Jennings was born a male but has been living as a female since the age of 5.
I Am Jazz | Book youtu.be
Jennings underwent gender confirmation surgery in 2018. Prior to the operation, Jennings posted a video to fans proclaiming great excitement about it: "Like penis to vagina. That's some serious s**t, y'all ... I can't believe it. I'm gonna have a vagina!"
Oh, but there's more
YAF told the Christian Post that the parent upset about the "I Am Jazz" reading to first graders contacted the school board president, who answered with "a very standard form response, such as, 'We have received your response, thank you for your inquiry.' And beyond that, she never returned the parent's email."
After that, YAF took note that Jennifer Mason, president of the Bellingham School Board, owns and operates a sex shop in town called WinkWink, which is described as "an inclusive space for people of all gender identities and ages." Mason told Western Front in 2018 that while the store only sells to those 16 and older, people of any age may enter it.
"I want to show people if sex isn't something to be ashamed about, then I should be able to be an elected official and own a sex shop at the same time," Mason added to Western Front. "That's what it means to live your values."
The Bellingham Herald on Friday published a story abut the controversy with a headline that seemed curious for a news story: "Here's why Bellingham school officials are being harassed by far-right websites."
"Bellingham school officials and a local business have been targeted with antisemitic and other hate speech and harassment over a children's book about a transgender girl that was read to first-graders, the superintendent said Thursday, May 7," the Herald noted.
More from the paper:
Harassment toward school staff apparently stems from stories on the websites of the right-wing Young America's Foundation and at The Daily Wire, run by far-right media personality Ben Shapiro.
Both websites cite anonymous sources for their information, but they provide the name and contact information for the teacher they claim read the book, along with information about Jenn Mason, school board president.
School spokeswoman Dana Smith said the district has been receiving malicious emails and phone calls.
The Herald wrote that WinkWink is "a 'woman-owned, inclusive, all-ages, not creepy, sex shop' in downtown Bellingham." Mason, who is Jewish, told the paper that "in the past 24 hours, I've received a lot of questions and messages of support, but I've also received a lot of antisemitic and anti-trans hate speech."
"Our shop serves a huge number of queer and trans folks," she added to the Herald. "I feel honored to play a role in their lives. If anything, all this vitriol just shows how much more work we need to do to support trans kids."
In his superintendent's message, Baker wrote that media attention on the controversy focused on a "private business owned by one of our school board members. This attention is prompting hate speech and harassment based on our values as a district and our commitment to equitable, diverse and inclusive education."