Mother Of Transgender Son Fired From MSEA After Speaking Out About Slur In School Play

The School System says the offensive word was removed.


Frederick, Md (KM). The mother of a transgender son who raised concerns about a word used in the performance of “Shrek the Musical” was fired from her job with the Maryland State Education Association, an action which was supported by the Frederick County Board of Education.

Nicola Van Kuilenberg, the mother of James Van Kuilenberg, an outspoken transgender activist, says in a statement she learned the performance of “Shrek the Musical”  being held on April 18th at Oakdale High for elementary and middle school students contained the word “tranny,” which is a slur against the transgender population. She noted in her statement that she had seen another performance  of this play at Governor Thomas Johnson High School four years ago, and that offensive word had been removed. “The t-word is equivalent to the n-word which carries with a lot of hurt and pain for the transgender community,”: says Mrs. Van Kuilenberg, in a statement.

Continuing her statement, Van Kuilenberg says she contacted the School System which at first said it had no intention of removing that word. Later on, FCPS says it contacted  the copyright company and received an updated script with the word “tranny” removed.

Following her firing by MSEA, the Board of Education expressed support for the move. President Brad Young said Van Kuilenberg worked with FCPS employees. And even though she’s not a school system employee, Van Kuilenberg was expected to abide by the local policies set by the Board of Ed. “As a state union rep in our school system everyday, she is seen as somebody that certainly is representative of Frederick County Public Schools. And so I would expect that anybody that’s in a direct and quasi-role representing the school system would adhere to it…….to our policies that are there,” he said.

In addition, Young said there are other ways to raise concerns about an issue. “Today, it’s unfortunate that most people are looking to social media to get attention. And in this case, if the end result was to get those words out of the play, it could have been done simply by contacting myself or {Superintendent of Schools} Dr. {Theresa} Alban and say ‘hey, can we get this corrected.’ It was corrected within the same day,” he said.

Young also said Van Kuilenberg used social media to attack a drama teacher in the school system. Van Kuelingberg responded in her statement:  “It is true that I made a comment about the educator involved not understanding why the word was offensive because he does not belong to the community, but there were no names called, etc. I never, nor would I ever, advocated for discipline and termination of any educators involved. My goal was simply to have the harmful name removed.”.

In her statement, Van Kuilenberg also said  comments from Mr. Young “is particularly dangerous because it implies that he does not believe that FCPS employees have the right to speak out against hate speech or anything that involves FCPS in a controversial manner.” “That’s total BS,” Young responded.

School System spokesman Michael Doerrer says “Shrek the Musical” is actually about acceptance. “The point of the musical is all about inclusiveness. It’s all about acceptance. It’s all about making people feel welcome. It’s all about making people feel accepted for who they are,” he said.

He says the word used in the play was not intended to be insulting. “And the song that was in question, the character that sang that lyric was talking about  an example where they felt not included, not welcomed,and they used that word as an example of that,” says Doerrer. “So that’s the context that it happened in. And I think it’s important the context. And I also think it’s important to remember the context of the overall show.”

Van Kuilenberg also said in her statement “The school system did NOT act immediately to remove the word, in fact it took them approx. 7 hours to do so,” she said. “My posting about it to social media was done AFTER they refused to listen to the parents and transgender people who had contacted them via email”

“Well, the rehearsal in the afternoon and opening night later that evening, I think that’s pretty fast as far as I’m concerned,” Doerrer responded.

Last year, the Board of Education approved a policy covering transgender students which allowed them to use the restrooms and locker rooms based on their chosen sexual identity, and that may not be their gender at birth.  Some parents have told the Frederick News-Post they don’t believe the training is adequate for teachers and administrators. “Administrators and teachers know best how well training is working. So I would take what you read in the newspaper with a grain of salt. I always do,” he said.

Doerrer says the Board of Education will be receiving an update on how this transgender policy is working out after a year in practice. He says School Board members could proposed some changes.


By Kevin McManus