Paul Bowers is a journalist in South Carolina who blogs at “Brutal South.” This post is a story of a young person who realized he was transgender. He wrote an essay about his discovery that was published in Scholastic magazine. Two years later, a substitute gym teacher in South Carolina handed out the essay for his class to read. This act created a major scandal, and before long, the governor of the state got involved and demanded censorship of the essay. Bowers interviewed the author of the essay for this post.

Politicians have tried to whip up the issue of transgender youth as a menace to society. The most current survey suggests that about 1.4% of youth 13-17 identify as transgender. About 0.05% (half of one percent) of adults identify as transgender. These numbers have remained stable over time.

Bowers writes:

At the start of 7th grade, Leo Lipson emailed his teachers letting them know about a change in his pronouns.

Writing about his experience growing up transgender in New York, Leo had this to say:

When I asked my teachers for help, they told me I needed to teach my classmates about gender. I thought, “Aren’t you supposed to be the teacher?” I guess they saw gender as my thing, something they couldn’t explain.

Leo’s essay, “I Am Leo,” ran in the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Scholastic’s Choices magazine, a classroom publication for grades 7-12. It was a fine personal essay that broke down a complicated subject in simple terms.

As far as I can tell, Leo’s article didn’t make many waves until Sept. 9, 2022, when a substitute physical education teacher at a public middle school on James Island, South Carolina, handed out copies of the article to a class (it might have been the entire magazine issue; I’m not certain based on local news reports). The teacher also handed out a worksheet of questions testing students’ basic comprehension. It was an ungraded assignment.

Eleven days later, the assignment earned an official rebuke and press release from the Republican governor of South Carolina.

“I call on [Charleston County School District]’s Board of Trustees to take action immediately to prohibit these types of instructional materials from being distributed or utilized in the classroom without parents’ knowledge and consent,” Gov. Henry McMaster wrote in an open letter to the school board chair on Sept. 20.

Here we had the highest elected official in South Carolina nitpicking a single assignment handed out by a substitute gym teacher. The governor demanded censorship, and he got it: Leaning on South Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ+ sex education policies, a school district spokesperson said in a prepared statement, “District staff regrets that this matter occurred, and leaders are working to ensure all staff is reminded of parents’ opportunity to opt their children out prior to sensitive materials being shared with students.”

Now the issue is a big deal in the state. Parents are being frightened into thinking that the schools are trying to turn their children transgender. Republicans are busy scaring parents and passing laws to make sure that students never learn that transgender people exist.

To be effective, they will have to monitor their television watching and take away their cell phones. If knowing about the existence of transgender people turned people transgender, there would be many more than half a percent to 1.4%.

Open Blowers’ post to read his interview with Leo, who is now 19.