(NEW YORK)—In a “cruel” decision that represents an affront to free expression for LGBTQ+ students, a trans high school student in Texas was removed from the lead role in the school production of Oklahoma!, PEN America said today while urging the district to rescind the decision.

Following casting, the Sherman High School administration decided that students can only be cast in roles that match the gender they were assigned at birth, and in addition to the lead, other students allegedly also lost their roles.

In a subsequent statement, the administration said that there was “no policy” on how students are assigned to roles, but that for “this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used” for casting. The district said it was “not inclined to apply this criteria”  to all productions. The district also said the play, which is recommended for all audiences, would be postponed so as to undergo review for sexual content and mature themes.

In response, Freedom to Read program director Kasey Meehan released the following comments:

“This is a cruel decision guided by a ‘criteria’ that the district admits is applied unevenly. It is yet another example of threats to free expression for LGBTQ+ students, coming amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ book bans and educational gag orders limiting expression in public schools and restricting content on gender identity and sexual orientation. Together, these tactics ultimately silence students’ free expression. The heart of free expression is self-expression – this includes writing, theater, and art. We implore the district to rescind this decision and allow the play to continue as originally cast and planned.”

PEN America has tracked other assaults on free expression in the arts over the last few years. In January 2023, PEN America condemned the cancellation of Indecent at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Florida. In the months following, Spring Branch ISD in Texas canceled field trips to see James and the Giant Peach, after pressure from anti-LGBTQ groups objecting the play’s cross-gender casting; a production of Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood was canceled at an Indiana High School over LGBTQ+ and non-binary characters in the play; and an Ohio high school’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was temporarily canceled over “vulgarity,” with the Assistant Director of the school musical stating it was not just PG-13 language facing objection, but also the same-sex couple featured in the play.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057