The Loudoun County School Board voted yesterday to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal opportunity policy. The measure passed by a five to four margin after a tense meeting that included 80 members of the public speaking and about an hours worth of debate among school board members. This after community members from Equality Loudoun (including myself) had been advocating for the policy for over two years.
The policy update will bring Loudoun in line with most of the major jurisdictions in the DC region (such as Fairfax County, Prince William County, Arlington, and Alexandria). It also comes shortly after the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates used cheap political procedures to prevent a vote on statewide legislation preventing discrimination against the LGBT community in housing and public employment.
Leading up to the meeting, there had been a lot of discussion about whether or not the school board would include gender identity in the policy. Opponents such as the Family Foundation has been stirring up fear among the public by spreading misinformation about the potential for attacks in the bathroom and students’ privacy being invaded if transgender protections were included in the policy.
As I pointed out in my comments before the board, however, there are dozens of major school systems that already have protections for trans people and there haven’t been any reports of attacks or cisgender people using it as cover to enter the restroom of the opposite sex. This was echoed by school board members Brenda Sheridan and Joy Maloney when they highlighted how a representative from neighboring Prince William County had called up dozens of school systems with trans protections and discovered no incidents resulting from the policies.
During the public comment period, we heard from a variety of people who helped explain why the protections were necessary. Whether it was students (some as young as a fourth grader) saying the LGBT community felt threatened at school, a LCPS graduate who said she didn’t take a teaching job in Loudoun because she wouldn’t have felt safe transitioning, or parents talking about how their children dreaded going to school, it became clear the new policy was needed.
Opponents, however, kept trying to stir up fear and threatened law suits. The woman I was sitting next to at the meeting and I were keeping a tally of the threats and counted at least six people who directly threatened a lawsuits and many more who used legal theory to claim the school board didn’t have the authority to make the change. This argument, of course, is in direct contradiction to what Attorney General Mark Herring said is a statement years ago saying local governments were actually able to make the specific changes being discussed. Plus, none of the neighboring jurisdictions with similar policies are dealing with pending litigation.
The move also hasn’t been ignored by elected officials at other levels of government. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, for instance, tweeted out her support for the policy change shortly after the vote. “I am extremely proud of the majority of the School Board who voted this evening to add LGBT protections in its nondiscrimation policy,” she said. “To our LGBT students and staff — you are seen, you are supported, and you are now protected in our schools.”
Delegate Danica Roem also added her voice to the discussion. “Thank you to the advocates and the 5-4 majority on the Loudoun County School Board who voted to make LCPS more inclusive by adding LGBTQ students & staff to the equal opportunity policy,” Danica tweeted. “In Northern Virginia, we welcome you because of who you are, not despite it.”
This vote comes two years after a similar proposal failed to pass. When conservative Eric DeKenipp abruptly resigned from the school board last year, his seat was eventually filled by Chris Croll who ended up voting in favor of the policy change last night. For many people, this helped to illustrate how elections for local offices like the school board are extremely important even though they don’t receive a lot of attention.
With that sentiment in mind, folks aren’t declaring victory and simply closing up shop as eyes are now turning towards the 2019 elections when the entire school board is up for election. Efforts are underway to hold those who voted no (Jeff Morse, Eric Hornberger, Jill Turgeon, and Debbie Rose) accountable and make sure Joy Maloney and Tom Marshall are replaced by supporters of equality since they’re retiring at the end of their term.