The family of a Texas teen who was removed from his role in his high school's musical for being transgender say they're grateful to the community for speaking out to help get him reinstated.
Max Hightower's parents Phillip and Amy Hightower also credit their son, a senior at Sherman High School, for his courage, which they say helped inspire others to stand up for him.
"I admire his courage. It helped me with my courage, and helped me to find my voice and to stand tall," Amy Hightower said, speaking with ABC News.
The Sherman Independent School District this week reversed its decision to remove 17-year-old Max from his role in his high school production of "Oklahoma!", voting unanimously to reinstate him and the rest of the original cast after more than 60 people spoke out in support of the teen at a board meeting on Monday.
The reversal came just weeks after the school district removed Max from the role, citing new gender casting guidance.
Following Monday's vote, the Sherman Independent School District told ABC News the new dates for "Oklahoma!" are still to be determined.
Brad Morgan, president of the Sherman ISD Board of Trustees, apologized on behalf of the board in a statement on the Sherman ISD website this week.
"We understand that our decision does not erase the impact this had on our community, but we hope that we will reinforce to everyone, particularly our students, that we do embrace all of our Board goals, to include addressing the diverse needs of our students and empowering them for success in a diverse and complex world," Morgan said.
Amy Hightower told ABC News this week that while she considers Max's reinstatement "a win", "there is still some work that needs to be done."
Max first learned he had been cast in the musical's lead role back in October. Two weeks later, the family said Max and a number of other students were told they would no longer be allowed to act in the musical.
Max's dad Phillip Hightower told ABC News that the Sherman High School principal called all the parents at the time to inform them, claiming the principal told him, "Only males can play males, only females can play females."
"Those are his exact words verbatim," Phillip Hightower said. "I mean, you don't forget that, right?"
In a Nov. 6 statement, Sherman ISD said there was "no policy on how students are assigned to roles," but stated that "as it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting."
Sherman ISD also said that the production may not be age-appropriate.
"It was brought to the District's attention that the current production contained mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content," the district said, adding that "all aspects of the production need to be reviewed, including content, stage production/props, and casting to ensure that the production is appropriate for the high school stage."
The Hightowers said Max was devastated to learn he had lost his role, but put on a brave face.
"Max is a fighter, Max has always been a fighter," Phillip Hightower said.
Added Amy Hightower, "Max has probably been the strongest of all of us through this. I actually am very impressed with with his strength."
Phillip Hightower told ABC News he began reaching out to local news outlets to share his son's story in the wake of the casting decision.
"Most of the parents were initially hesitant to do anything ... but it's my kid," he said.
"I wanted to not fail Max," he added. "So, I called the local news."
Max's story was eventually picked up by a local news outlet, and later, by several major national news outlets.
Scores of Sherman community members subsequently showed up to support Max and the other students affected by the district's decision at a board meeting on Monday. Dozens of them expressed outrage and anger with the decision, delivering short speeches in support of Max.
Following public comments, the board voted unanimously to reinstate the original script and cast, "as the Board has not adopted a Board policy regarding the casting of students in theater productions or performances," trustee Jennifer Johnstone Shelby said.
The board postponed the high school's production, which was originally scheduled for Dec. 8-10, to a later date.
A previous statement on the Sherman ISD website noted that "public performances will be scheduled for some time after January 15, 2024."
Amy Hightower told ABC News the community reaction was overwhelming and hopeful.
"It was a very lonely road at times to travel down, and now I know that there's all this support, all these resources, all these groups," Hightower said. "We have fantastic people that we've been connected to and it's not so lonely anymore."
Max, meanwhile, told Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate WFAA-TV, "This is something that feels so big and out of my hands -- to know there is a big group out of people who want to help me, and help everyone affected, it feels like we're on even sides now and can actually win this fight."
Brian Wenke, the executive director of the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that aims to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth across the world, told ABC News he was in disbelief to learn about Max's initial situation. For him, he said, the theater had always been a safe place for LGBTQ+ students.
While he said he was pleased at news that Max and the other students had been reinstated, he noted that situations like these can have a lasting impact on LGBTQ+ youth.
"Max is going to have to carry that, [and] other LGBTQ+ people exposed to the same situations are going to have to carry that throughout their life," Wenke said.