A children’s book meant to teach kids about bullying and how to prevent it has been pulled out from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system following complaints from conservative lawmakers and family groups.
The issue? The book’s main character, Jacob, a boy, likes to slip into a pink, glitter-studded dress.
Jacob’s New Dress is the story of a young boy who is bullied at school for wanting to dress like a girl before progressively gaining acceptance from his classmates. The story starts off with Jacob being singled out during a class where children are invited to put on different clothes and imagine themselves in different characters. Jacob decides to put on a dress and a crown and fiercely declares : “I’ll be the princess!”
Written by Ian Hoffman and his wife Sarah after personal experience of childhood gender dysphoria — when he was 4 years old, their younger son was “a pink boy” who enjoyed wearing pink dresses around the house while playing with dinosaurs — Jacob’s New Dress is meant to introduce kids of kindergarten age to the idea of gender fluidity and inclusivity.
It was chosen as part of the lesson plan for first graders at Charlotte Mecklenburg schools for Child Abuse Prevention Month as a way to address themes of difference, harassment and anti-bullying.
But the choice of the book incensed a conservative parents group, the North Carolina Values Coalition (NCVC), which claims it is pushing an agenda that threatens traditional family values.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director NCVC, said she was tipped off by an upset teacher who complained parents were not told the book would be added to the curriculum.
“I read the book online,” she said. “It’s clearly geared to young children. The book is meant as a tool of indoctrination to normalize transgender behavior. I think a lot of parents would object to that.”
The coalition organized a petition and protested the change over a period of several months. Their concerns eventually made their way up to the school’s government liaison, Republican Charles Jeter, who pressed district officials on the issue. They eventually bowed to the outrage and announced the district would reverse course and pull the book.
Jacob’s New Dress will be replaced by Red: A Crayon’s story, a story about a red crayon that identifies as a blue crayon.
“The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses…These lessons found in the book, Jacob’s New Dress…are not appropriate for any child whose parents support traditional family values,” reads a statement on NCVC’s website.
For the authors, the fact that the book sparked such a backlash is proof that books like this one are still needed.
Speaking to the Observer, they refuted accusations of promoting a political agenda, noting that a similar story featuring a little girl wearing trousers would have been viewed in the same way a century ago.
“The idea that a book can turn someone gay or transgender is bizarre to us. Reading a book can’t turn you gay,” said Sarah Hoffman.
“If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King Jr., will they become black? This book is about a little boy who wears a dress, something outside of traditional gender roles, much like the idea of a girl wearing pants was 100 years ago. It’s about following your heart.”
The controversy comes less than a year after the controversial passing of the HB2 law, a.k.a the “bathroom bill”, that restricts various transgender and gay rights. Among other things, it forbids transgender or gender fluid individuals from accessing bathrooms that do not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth.
The National Council Against Censorship has condemned the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district and Republican lawmakers for using their political power to “meddle in school curricula.”