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I Am Jazz

Jessica Herthel, co-author of the book “I Am Jazz,” speaks during a book reading event Dec. 2 at the Mount Horeb Library in Mount Horeb. The book is based on the life of a transgender young person.

Inspired by an incident in November in Mount Horeb, more than two dozen sites in eight states held readings Thursday of the transgender children’s book “I Am Jazz.”

The readings took place at schools, churches and community centers, including at eight Madison public schools, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the national LGBT advocacy group that organized the event.

A reading Thursday night at the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library in Cross Plains drew 21 people, a library employee said.

In November, an elementary school in Mount Horeb canceled a classroom reading of the book following legal threats from Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as protecting religious freedom and the sanctity of the family.

The school had scheduled the reading to support a student who had just publicly transitioned from a boy to a girl.

In response, a parent organized an evening reading of the book at the Mount Horeb Library, attended by more than 600 residents. Later, the Mount Horeb School Board adopted measures to fully accommodate transgender students.

“I Am Jazz” tells the story of a transgender girl and was co-written by Jessica Herthel and transgender teen Jazz Jennings.

Herthel hosted a reading Thursday at a library in Orange County, California, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

She had read the book at the Mount Horeb event in December.

“Mount Horeb parents and school leaders acted with courage and showed that love, indeed, conquers hate,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, the campaign’s senior vice president for programs, research and training.

Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said Thursday it is “irresponsible to promote that book,” especially to young people.

“It is dangerous and fictitious to suggest you can change your sex. You can’t,” he said.

“People are free to read that book, but people are free to do stupid things as well.”

The eight Madison schools that had readings were: Lincoln, Shorewood Hills, Van Hise, Schenk, Nuestro Mundo and Chavez elementary schools, and O’Keeffe and Hamilton middle schools.

Rachel Strauch-Nelson, spokeswoman for the Madison School District, said the schools are all part of a national initiative called “Welcoming Schools,” sponsored by the Human Rights Cam- paign.

The schools have been discussing diversity, gender stereotyping and ending bullying, “so they have a strong foundation for conversations like these,” she said.

Parents were not specifically notified about the reading of “I Am Jazz,” she said, but there has been ongoing communication with families around “Welcoming Schools.”

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