On February 27, thousands of parents, educators, elected officials and allies will join in solidarity with transgender and gender-expansive students by hosting school and community readings of I Am Jazz, a children’s book by transgender teen trailblazer Jazz Jennings, as well as additional titles. The fifth annual Jazz and Friends National Day of School and Community Readings is sponsored by the Welcoming Schools Program at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, and the National Educational Association (NEA), the country’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3 million educators across the U.S.
Following yet another year of cruel attacks on the rights and dignity of transgender young people — including a firestorm of proposed state legislation which could bar transgender youth and their parents from making decisions about their medical care — the day of readings helps foster safe and welcoming schools and communities for youth who still rarely hear affirming stories of LGBTQ people. In addition to I Am Jazz, participants will have the option of reading from additional books about transgender and gender-expansive youth of color, including Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love and They, She, He Easy as ABC by Maya and Matthew Smith Gonzalez.
“Transgender and non-binary youth are part of classrooms all across this country and deserve to see their stories reflected in their schools and communities,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “I Am Jazz is a joyful book loved by children of all identities and it serves as a powerful tool for educators, parents and anyone who wants to lead with love during these challenging times. The readings that will take place across the country send a powerful message of support to transgender youth and their allies.”
“With Jazz and Friends’ National Day of School and Community Readers, we are declaring that every student has the fundamental right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our nation’s public schools,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “This unequivocal message of love, support, and inclusion for our transgender and non-binary students is not only right but, unfortunately, necessary in light of outright hostility towards them from people like Betsy DeVos. Today and every day we pledge to continue to work towards fostering safe and affirming public schools for all of our students and families.”
This event comes amidst a backdrop of anti-transgender state legislative efforts across the country that attack vulnerable transgender and gender-expansive youth. In South Dakota, the state House of Representatives passed a bill which bars transgender youth and their parents from making decisions about their medical care, and allows the state to impose criminal penalties on doctors who provide care for trans and gender non-conforming youth.. Luckily, the bill was effectively killed in the State Senate. At least twenty states, including Arizona, Tennessee, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa and South Carolina are considering bills that target transgender and non-binary youth.
The international day of readings was inspired by the more than 600 residents of tiny Mount Horeb, Wis., who unequivocally rebuked bigotry and censorship in 2015 by showing up at a public reading of I Am Jazz. A caring parent organized the reading 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.
HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools is the only bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ-specific training and resources with an intersectional lens specifically to elementary school educators and youth serving professionals. HRC’s Welcoming Schools has created a guide to help organizers of Jazz and Friends reading events build more affirming and supportive spaces for transgender and gender-expansive youth across the country. You can register to receive that guide here.
For more information on the Jazz and Friends National Day of School and Community Readings, visit hrc.im/jazzandfriends.