School board meeting addresses controversial gender-inclusive casting for musical

MONROE, N.C. — A debate is sparking a larger conversation about inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community as controversy stirs over a high school’s plan for a gender-inclusive cast in a musical.

Several speakers wanted to address the Union County School Board Thursday night about LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Jake Long, a student at Central Academy of Technology and Arts, will play percussion in the upcoming performance of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“I hope that hearing from a real person in front of them will humanize us,” Long said.

Long said he has experienced discrimination in the past, but that CATA has made him feel safe and at home.

Gender-inclusive casting means that students can play any role, including Jesus, which was met with some negative comments on social media.

However, students and parents said it was the subsequent actions by the district that upset them.

Teachers were reminded the district policy does not allow them to include their pronouns in email signatures and that they shouldn’t display pride flags.

Parents urged the school board to rethink its approach.

“You can’t fathom the fear one has if this is the day your child will become a statistic because of someone’s violent actions or someone’s hateful words,” parent Christopher Loritz said. “You go to bed every night grateful that today wasn’t the day.”

Channel 9 anchor Genevieve Curtis asked UNC Charlotte associate professor of education Susan Harden about the message it sends when teachers are discouraged from displaying pride flags or reminded to remove pronouns.

“I think policies like that are meant to make people feel unwelcomed,” Harden said.

She also pointed out that CATA has an award-winning theater program.

“They seem to be doing a lot of things right there,” Harden said. “They are educating kids and getting them into nationally recognized theater programs. I think we should trust the educators to do what’s right for the kids.”

No one at Thursday night’s board meeting spoke out against the musical.

Board member Gary Sides, the only board member outspoken about it on social media remained silent during the discussion.

Superintendent Andrew G. Houlihan said that every child in the school district deserves to be treated with respect and dignity while not being scared of retaliation or bullying.

“We take that very seriously in this school district and anything otherwise will not be tolerated,” Houlihan said.

District officials said the spring musical will not be canceled and it would not interfere with casting for the roles in accordance with Title IX..

VIDEO: Union County Public Schools offers $4,000 incentive for hard-to-fill teaching positions

Comments on this article