Despite Community Support, School Board Tables Motion to Amend Antidiscrimination Policy

The Loudoun County School Board was supposed to vote on Brenda Sheridan’s motion to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the school system’s antidiscrimination policy. The motion was originally made at last month’s school board meeting, so they had a month to seek legal opinions and make up their mind on where they stand. Nonetheless, Chairman Eric Hornberger moved to table the motion again claiming he still needed time to speak to the School Board’s attorney.

While the school board didn’t actually vote on the motion at this meeting, it became clear that the public supported including the LGBT in the antidiscrimination policies. Filled to capacity with people supporting the motion, the meeting room was so crowded that they actually had to stop the meeting a few times to clear the doors in case of an emergency.

There was a lot of emotional testimony before the board as many parents spoke about the struggles their children went through since they identify as LGBT. One mother even held up her iPad with a photo of her transgender son and spoke about how he’d tried to commit suicide. While the policy under consideration would only apply to staff members in the public schools, the parents argued it would serve as a “model for students” and without it there’s “nothing to use as guidance.”

In one of the lighter moments of the public statements, Connie Rice (a transgender woman from Loudoun) spoke about a survey that said more people have claimed to seeing a ghost than a transgender person. She then turned around to the crowd, threw up her arms, pointed to herself, and said “Hellooooo, transgender person.” This got a laugh from the audience, but also gets to a greater point: it’s harder to hate a group of people if you actually know a member of that group.

Of the 58 members of the public who spoke before the school board, only six people spoke against including the LGBT community as a protected class. Of those six people, two were admittedly from outside the county (they claimed to be from Fairfax).

The two people from Fairfax were actually boo’ed by members of the crowd because their argument was so out of place. They claimed gender identity being included in antidiscrimination policy would only lead to women being abused in the bathroom by people who were really men.

As Lou Weaver pointed out during a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American progress, this argument is simply ludicrous. People wouldn’t go through all the hardship that goes along with being transgender, after all, if they weren’t really struggling with their gender identity. Furthermore, all this policy would do is make it slightly easier for the LGBT community to go about their lives without having to worry about being harassed, fired, or denied a position because of who they love.

In addition to the irrational opponents of the legislation, there were some people who tried to make some legal arguments against including the LGBT community as a protected class. One person, for instance, tried to claim the School Board couldn’t do so due to Virginia’s use of the Dillon Rule. That opinion simply doesn’t give with the precedent already set by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, which moved to include the LGBT community in its antidiscrimination policy back in 2011.

In the years since the Board of Supervisors made that move, Attorney General Mark Herring has also made it clear local school boards have the authority to change the antidiscrimation policy. He wrote a letter to Adam Ebbin in March of 2015 that claimed “because the power to protect students and employees from discrimination in the public school system is a power fairly implied from the express grant of authority to school boards” from the state Constitution and “the specific authority granted to the boards by the General Assembly […], the Dillon Rule does not prevent school boards from amending their antidiscrimination policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Several parents told me they have either written the school board about this letter and/or spoke to members about it in person, so the board is well aware of the legal opinion Herring gave. Tabling the motion to speak to their attorney is therefore just an excuse to avoid taking a controversial vote.

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