Jessica Herthel is a straight ally activist, who has made media appearances with Jazz Jennings, and wrote the book I am Jazz.
About this event
Based on the real-life experiences of Jazz Jennings, a transgender YouTube personality, Human Rights Campaign Youth Ambassador and TLC star.
“This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty.”—Laverne Cox (who plays Sophia in “Orange Is the New Black”)
From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.Blurb for event
The host was the Wassmuth Human Rights Center based Idaho, USA. Their Director of Education moderated the call and has a degree in history with a focus on Holocaust studies. Its Board of Directors is almost exclusively drawn from the world of business and commerce and its not clear if any one of them have relevant experience and qualifications in the area of human rights. They probably hold one political science degree between them. Mind you, these days that’s probably no bad thing.
The Wassmuth Center for Human Rights was founded in 1996 for the purpose of constructing a memorial to human rights. That vision became a reality when the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial opened to the public in 2002. The Memorial is a world-class educational park inspired by Anne Frank’s faith in humanity. A living, vibrant interactive classroom for Idaho’s school children, it inspires people of all ages to contemplate the moral implications of their actions and the scope of their civic responsibilities.
Recognized as the educational arm of the Memorial, the Center provides programs and resources designed to bring the Memorial’s message into classrooms and communities.
Our mission is to “promote respect for human dignity and diversity through education and to foster individual responsibility to work for peace and justice.”From the Center’s Mission statement – read out at the beginning of the webinar
Why is a human rights organisation would platform an activist who advocates for children to have puberty blocking drugs? Not just any advocate, but one linked to Jazz Jennings, whose entire childhood has been lived on camera, which one could argue is a human rights violation in and of itself.
About the activist
When introducing Jessica Herthel, the centre’s Director of Education who explained that Herthel was a ‘straight ally, Harvard law school graduate and married mother of three straight kids’ who ‘never planned on becoming a transgender rights advocate’. Herthel was also praised for having ‘many gay friends’ and had taught her children ‘tolerance and acceptance from the time they were 2 years old’.
The inciting incident that led Herthel into activism was her 5 year old daughter commenting that same sex couples were ‘strange’, this startled Herthel so much that she endeavoured to get involved in Broward County’s (Florida) school lesson plans and helped purchase ‘diverse’ books for elementary school children. She was primary content editor of Broward County’s LGBTQ Critical Support Guide (link opens into a PDF document), this was distributed across the Broward’s schools in 2014.
This led onto Herthel being hired as Educational Director of the Stonewall National Museum and Archive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she continued her work on ‘inclusive schools’.
A switch in activism came, however, when she met Jeanette, the ‘indomitable’ mother of Jazz Jennings, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After the host finished reading out the very long introductory blurb, directly taken from Herthel’s own webpage, and thus Herthel must have heard every time she does a gig, she claimed that she was ‘humbled, embarrassed, my late mother is swelling because you bragged about me’. And yes, she really does describe her children as ‘straight’.
Herthel showed us the same presentation that she takes to schools. She wouldn’t let her cat into the room while she was making the presentation, likely because she knew the cat would upstage her in terms of charisma and wit.
The essence of advocacy
She calls this presentation the ‘essence of advocacy’ because she had been just a ‘miserable lawyer’ and tired of ‘pushing paper around’, until she found rainbow and glitter and then realised her true calling in life.
Her best friend of 25 years is a gay man, so it was super important to her that children be allies – ‘always be a buddy, not a bully,’ she chirped. She taught her daughters all about the various (political) diversity strands there are and thought she was ‘killing the parenting thing’ but still felt she wasn’t doing enough. This was despite one of her kids writing ‘equal rights’ in the sand whilst visiting the beach. In response said daughter was told ‘you’re my favourite child’, a sure sign ‘equal rights’ were as far away from the child’s mind as possible when writing it.
Another daughter bought back from kindergarten a slogan which read ‘I’m unique because I treat people equally’. This wasn’t enough for Herthel though, she wanted more, so she went out of her way to teach them about ‘trans kids’ and introduce them to the idea that they would have a friend who was trans.
When Herthel showed one daughter an article about a one-armed girl who was a horse rider, the 3 year old expressed distress at the image she was shown. Again Mom was able to reassure her that just because the girl had a missing arm, she was normal, and just had a different shape to other people and was ‘an accomplished equestrian’. This anecdote came in good use when she was able to introduce them to Jazz for the first time, describing the then 14 year old to them as ‘my friend Jazz’, who had a ‘different shaped body’.
So her three daughters and Jazz went out for ice cream, the youngest of her girls being 3 years. The three got on well with the extremely good natured and outgoing Jazz and apparently bonded over discussions about mermaids and other ‘girly’ things. (Jazz is older than her children, probably 3-4 years older than her eldest, on eyeballing of the photos she shared, so not a peer.)
However, that still left Herthel confused. ‘Why was it so difficult?,’ she opined to her hubby, so she rung the ‘indomitable’ mother of Jazz and asked why there weren’t any parent resources for parents like herself, who just wanted their kids to be ‘a good human’.
How she wrote the book
She undertook the task ‘with no training at all in children’s literature’, a stunt recently repeated by the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, who quickly became the best selling LGBT Children’s Author on Amazon with his book Johnny the Walrus.
Research for the book included watching YouTube clips of Jazz Jennings, which she played for us. In one, Jazz claims he was ‘grabbing heels’ from the age of 16 months. We see photos of some of the famous people he, and his indomitable mother, have met, including Bill Clinton. Then we see Jazz appearing at the 2013 GLAAD Awards. Jazz swimming in a mermaid outfit. At five he changed his pronouns from ‘he to she’ and started to grow his hair at six.
At 11, he was subject of a 20/20 ABC News segment and was interviewed by veteran journalist Barbara Walters (Walters face can hardly move).
Also, Jazz speaking at medical conferences. Jazz talking about mermaids again. Jazz claiming that he prefers to be transgender and the adult human female interviewer bursting into tears when she hears these well rehearsed lines. Jazz telling us he wants everyone to have freedom.
Herthel’s main concern about the production of the book was that the illustrator, who was chosen by the publisher and she had no control over, would draw images congruent with the story line. Some of the drawings in the book are actually replications of the drawings Jazz had drawn himself. (How many things have been stolen from Jazz?)
Reading out the book I am Jazz
This is also available publicly, and Jazz recorded a video with the Human Rights Campaign.
My observation about the book is that it is utterly devoid of humour. It also depicts a white family, which the Jennings’ family isn’t, and I wonder if this was a marketing decision.
When Herthel finished the reading she announced she ‘needed a hug’ but also admitted that she probably should leave such outbursts ‘for her therapist’.
Responses to the book
Herthel wanted to address a few of the criticisms levelled at the book, the first being that it was very gender stereotypical. She explained this was because little girls really do like pink and little boys really do like trucks. It was a not a book aimed at college students, who, she says, are the ones would want to fight with her about gender stereotypes. The book is aimed at 3-4 year olds. Herthel is a philosophy major, so is prepared to have that conversation, but, she said, ‘we stand by it’ (presumably that’s the Royal ‘we’).
She also noted that it was now politically incorrect to use the phrase ‘boy body’ and the new phrase was ‘trans woman’s body’ or ‘woman’s body’. Herthel again feels this is more of a high school/college conversation, which is strange when she is so concerned with 3 year olds getting everything absolutely perfectly. I personally think the book should be recalled, destroyed and re-written so that Jazz talks about being ‘a girl stuck in a girl body’. Surely the HRC will have an opinion on this? It’s only right.
Kids, however, told her that they slept with the book under their pillow, or they bought it to school and were finally able to tell their friends what they were feeling.
Herthel ‘stalked celebrities’ and ‘threw the book at them’, meanwhile Jazz was named as of the most influential teenagers of the year by Time magazine in 2014, the same year that the TV show I am Jazz was commissioned.
I am Jazz had also been on the list of banned books, alongside Fifty Shades of Gray. Herthel whined that the 1 star reviews of her book were really mean, highlighting one which stated the book wasn’t about jazz music, which seemed a strange one to hone in on.
On the other hand, she had had letters of support, one of which had come from a mother who lived in a town with ‘one traffic light’ who claimed she had a transgender 6 year old. The Liberty Counsel threatened to sue the school the child was at if the book was read out. The community in retaliation hired a room at the local library to read the book publicly and Herthel offered her services. They had only expected 30 people but 600 hundred came instead. As a result of the action, the School Board supported the reading of the book in the school.
The HRC had instituted a National Day of Reading of the book, in memory of this special moment when people flocked to the library on a cold winter’s day, to a town which just had one lonely traffic light. Herthel never found out who the 6 year old in question was, but she gets emotional talking about it and needed another hug.
How to be an ally
This was just the usual. She claims that in Orange County, California, where she lives now, they are not that keen on Rainbow Flags, which is funny because I thought California was the epicentre of the transmania in the US.
On meeting Tomi Lahren
Herthel described meeting Tomi Lahren, a 20 something conservative media personality, as ‘super scary’. Tomi Lahren is a critic of the American bathroom bills bought in by Obama. The deal brokered was that both sides, I am Jazz and The Blaze, would both record the debate and would both have the rights to air it. Herthel played us more or less the entire segment.
The most interesting thing about the clip is the mother’s insistence that she be in Jazz’s line of vision. In terms of the interview itself, not only does Lahren ask the difficult questions, but Jazz doesn’t shrivel up and die hearing the other side of the argument. Yet let’s face it, his parents should never have exposed him to such a situation in the first place.
Lahren got fired from The Blaze before the other side of the conversation could be aired, so we only have their version, but I still think Lahren comes out of looking pretty reasonable.
Nowadays when people go on TV to complain about Herthel’s book, their faces get blurred out, Herthel explained this was to mitigate the risk of ‘transgender’ children committing suicide, rather than the more logical explanation that ordinary citizens worry about losing their jobs for objecting to the ideological content of I am Jazz.
A 70 year old woman, who had children who were now in their 40s, spoke about her niece who had ‘transitioned’ (female to male). She had caused consternation in the family for being supportive and had bought two copies of the I am Jazz book, one for her own Kindle, and another for the 3 year old next door. Herthel disingenuously told the woman she was ‘hot’ and that she could see all the love radiating from her heart. She also told her that she had probably saved her niece’s life. Completely normal response to perfectly usual behaviour there.
A high schooler was on the call and told Herthel that there had been no discussion at school about transgender issues, nor had they read any books about it. Herthel jumped in and asked if he had a Gay/Straight Alliance club at school. Oh yah we do, the boy retorted.
Herthel asked if anyone on the call worked with kids? That was when a woman, who looked straight out of an @libsoftiktok video, and who turned about to be the high schooler’s mum, claimed that it was not possible to discuss ‘pronouns or anything’ at her child’s school, but rather disqualified that by mentioning the ‘pronoun check at lunch’. She worked as a teacher too and had Rainbow Flags in her school room and had claimed she had had ‘many children come out to me personally’. Herthel claimed that if a kid has six supportive adults they are in the ‘good place’, but that even knowing one would be the difference between ‘suicide or not’. Teachers could literally save lives by visibly showing their support with the Rainbow Flag, even if it was just a bumper sticker on their own car.
Herthel noticed a kid in the gallery of faces and called out to them. The kid then spoke about a teacher at his school who had a poster with the trans tricolor on display in her schoolroom. He then described her as ‘crazy’. Herthel approved of this, advising ‘look for the crazy ones’. Which is brilliant advice, isn’t it?
The topic of Lia Thomas, the man who is currently competing in women’s swimming, cropped up. One of audience members wanted to know what Herthel thought about it. Herthel reflected that someone like Jazz ‘knew from an early age’. In Herthel’s PFLAG chapter there was a trans-identified doctor who had explained that the sexed body develops first and then the brain after that, a hormonal hiccup resulting in the two parts developing in different directions. This is what had happened to Jazz. However, there were a whole bunch of other kids who just felt ‘gender fluid’ or ‘gender non-conforming’ – the ‘whole they/them thing’ had really taken a hold of young people, Herthel said.
Thus, it was in a roundabout way then that Herthel admitted that Thomas was not really identifying as a woman, but her opinion was that (women’s) sports had to be accommodating to those (male) people who felt that they did not fit into the gender binary.
The 70 year old woman spoke again, informing us that her cousin had been a paediatrician who had been professionally involved with cases of gender dysphoria, and who had rejected the transition of the family member spoken about earlier. ‘Kids don’t lie,’ she said. ‘Who would volunteer for [such a horrid] life?’ agreed Herthel.
Herthel boasted that she is prepared to turn up anywhere to soak up all of the hatred that exists towards ‘trans children’. She tries to travel with a trans youth whenever she can to ‘share the mic’. She claimed that people said to Jazz’s face that he should ‘kill himself’, yet whispered these words, so I took this to be a lie.
The youth came back onto the call to repeat again that he only had one supportive teacher at school, but that there were 18 other kids at the school who were all ‘queer’. Herthel told the youth that he was a hero of hers, because he had come out as ‘queer’ and was ‘mature and grown up for your age’. This child was then offered the role of being a ‘student of action’ by the host and asked for him to make contact by email. ‘It’s like a networking session!’ squealed Herthel deliriously. And then it swiftly wrapped up.
For further information I am linking Michael Laidlaw’s essay debunking the book I am Jazz, and which looks at some of risks associated with hormone therapy and surgery.
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