Family of Trans Student Actor Unjustly Barred from School Musical Honored by Dramatists Legal Defense Fund | Playbill

Awards Family of Trans Student Actor Unjustly Barred from School Musical Honored by Dramatists Legal Defense Fund

The Hightower family of Sherman, Texas received the 2024 Defender Award.

Philip Hightower, Amy Hightower, and Max Hightower Rebecca J. Michelson

The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) honored the Hightower family of Sherman, Texas with the 2024 Defender Award at the Dramatists Guild Awards May 6.

Philip, Amy, and Max Hightower were honored for their unwavering commitment to inclusivity and equality that has left a permanent mark on the Sherman School District. 

The award was presented to the Hightower Family by playwright Robert Schenkkan (All the Way, Hacksaw Ridge). The Defender Award is presented by the DLDF’s board to recognize an individual or group’s efforts in support of free expression in the dramatic arts.

Said the DLDF, "Philip and Amy, together with their son Max, embody a steadfast dedication to advocating for inclusivity, equality, and the rights of all students, as well as free expression in the dramatic arts. The Hightower family's extraordinary journey began with a profound injustice in their community. In November 2023, Max Hightower, a senior at Sherman High School, was unjustly barred from portraying Ali Hakim in the school’s production of the historically groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! due to his transgender identity. Not only was Max targeted, but all students cast in roles incongruent with their gender assigned at birth were also banned from the production.

"Philip and Amy Hightower, Max's parents, courageously took a stand against this discrimination, amplifying their voices through local media channels and sparking a nationwide outcry. Their advocacy led to a nationwide media storm and a groundswell of support for Max and other affected students. In response to the community's outrage, Sherman High School announced that Oklahoma! would be under review due to its 'mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content.' At a heated public school board meeting, over 60 people spoke in support of Max. Eventually, the board voted to reinstate the original script and cast of Oklahoma!. The production went on as planned, but the impact of the Hightower family's advocacy reverberated far beyond the stage. On May 1st, 2024, the superintendent, Tyson Bennet, was removed from his position because of the controversy."

Previous recipients of the Defender of the Year Award have included the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned Initiative, playwrights Alice Childress and Sharai Bohannon, Svetlana Mintcheva of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña, the cast and crew of the musical Hamilton, attorney Edward J. Davis, columnist Howard Sherman, and high school student Larissa Mark.

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