Utah high school removes class assignment on student essay titled ‘It Is So Hard to Be Trans’

The essay, published in The New York Times, contained no explicit or “pornographic” content that would have required its removal under Utah law.

(Google Maps) Herriman High School, as shown in a 2021 Google Maps image, in Herriman, Utah. Jordan School District officials ordered that a class assignment at the school involving a transgender student's essay be removed.

Jordan School District officials ordered that an assignment involving a Texas student’s essay published in The New York Times titled “It Is So Hard to Be Trans” be removed from a Herriman High School class’s curriculum after it was brought to the attention of administrators.

“We apologize to any student offended by a Herriman High School classroom assignment involving a New York Times student essay and the disruption to learning it may have caused,” district spokesperson Sandra Riesgraf said in a statement Monday.

The district investigated the assignment, “which asked students to break down parts of speech in the essay,” after school administrators were notified, Riesgraf said. The assignment was ultimately removed and is “no longer part of the class.”

“Appropriate administrative action will be taken,” the statement continued, though the statement did not specify what that action would entail.

The district also did not specify why the assignment was removed. The content does not seem to violate Utah’s sensitive materials law.

But it did seem to prompt outrage after photos of the printed-out, stapled essay made rounds in conservative social media circles as early as last Thursday, with some posts claiming students were required to write a response to the essay explaining why being transgender “isn’t a choice.”

Riesgraf said that claim was false. “Students were not required to take a stance or form an opinion on why being trans isn’t a choice,” Riesgraf said. “The assignment was to review the writing, not the subject.”

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, weighed in on X, formerly Twitter, arguing that he didn’t see how the essay would “fit into any curriculum that is state approved.”

“I’ve asked the district to investigate,” he wrote.

McCay did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune.

The assigned essay had been selected as one of the Top 11 winners in a 2023 student editorial contest through the The Learning Network, a free resource for teachers curated by The New York Times.

It was written by then 16-year-old Callisto Lim, a student at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. The essay details why Callisto felt scared for their “right to exist,” citing several states that had passed anti-transgender legislation.

“I am scared that if I stay in Texas I will be denied the health care that I need because of people like Governor Greg Abbott,” Callisto wrote.

Callisto’s essay contains no explicit “pornographic or indecent material” that would make it illegal under Utah’s current sensitive materials law.

Utah law also does not explicitly prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, though lawmakers have made attempts to pass legislation banning such topics in the past.

Earlier this year, Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, proposed a bill that would have prevented school officials from “endorsing, promoting, or disparaging certain beliefs or viewpoints,” building upon existing restrictions meant to uphold “constitutional freedom” in Utah public schools.

The bill would have specifically added “gender identity,” “sexual orientation,” and “political and social viewpoints” as restricted topics, but it ultimately failed to pass.

A year prior, Stenquist also ran a bill that would have prohibited any discussion of sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. HB550 took language directly from a controversial Florida bill that became more widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” measure.

But after pushback from the LGBTQ community, Stenquist revised his draft, lifting the proposed ban on sexual orientation and gender identity but keeping the prohibition on sexuality. The bill failed to pass.