ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress” is a children’s book about a young boy who likes to wear a dress to school. He also wears high heels and fingernail polish.
Morris finds himself isolated and ridiculed but eventually convinces his classmates that he is just a boy who happens to like to wear a dress the color of a tiger and his mother’s hair and they eventually accept him. The story aims to encourage acceptance and discourage bullying.
But one parent sees something far more sinister going on here.
“What the heck is going on?” Markham said. “This book is not just talking about accepting another viewpoint, it’s promoting another life.”
Lee Markham is a 35-year-old Army veteran who says he was discharged in 2010 after an IED blew up in his face in Afghanistan forcing him to get dental reconstruction.
Markham is also the father of a 9-year-old third-grader at a Forest Hills Public Schools elementary where the book was read to class.
“We’re talking about one way to live life, but what about the other way, y’know, sorry to say it, the normal way what’s the benefit of actually adhering to societal norms,” Markham said.
The topic of transgender students is at the forefront today as the Michigan Board of Education considers guidelines for how schools can be safe places for those students.
Like many who oppose the guidelines, Markham sees himself and fellow fundamentalist Christians like him as being the victims of discrimination. They argue that their First Amendment rights are being discarded if there are restrictions to speaking up against a “lifestyle” they believe violates their belief system.
“His First Amendment right to his freedom of religion wasn’t addressed at all and instead another way of life is just put right in front of him. I just wonder who’s gonna correct all the damage that was done,” Markham.
But for Markham, the issue goes beyond constitutional issues.
“For one thing, if any of those kids weren’t thinking about wearing dresses, now they are,” Markham said.
But far from pushing any kind of agenda, Superintendent Daniel Behm told 24 Hour News 8 the topic was broached by students.
“This book is not part of our typical curriculum but it was chosen with the teacher and the counselor after some students kept raising questions about some people dressed differently,” Behm said.
Behm said the issue is not just about LGBT issues, but about understanding of all cultures in a district of 10,000 students. He said ignoring topics like this one will only keep the school from concentrating on its core curriculum.
“When students ask a question, are teachers sort of saying ‘well, let me get back with you after I write a letter to all the parents to see if I can answer that letter for you’ I think that’s where it becomes, on a day-to-day practical level, a challenge,” Behm said.
This book has won numerous awards and has been recommended by library associations as a way to explore the topic with children.
Its author, Christine Baldacchino, told 24 Hour News 8 the book is about more than just practicing acceptance.
“I wanted to give a voice to kids who are judged by people like Lee Markham every day just for being who they are. I want these children to know that their focus should be on being happy in their own skin (whether it be wrapped up in a tangerine dress or a pair of denim overalls),” she wrote in a statement.
Markham said he wants an apology and to have the book pulled from the shelves.
The superintendent says that while he is glad to be aware that there is a person who might have a problem with this particular book, there is no reason it should be banned from the schools.