Loudoun County School Board members argued Tuesday evening over whether to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” among characteristics protected from discrimination.
The debate was prompted by a proposal from Tom Marshall (Leesburg) to add ancestry to a list of identifications already spelled out in the board’s equal opportunity policy protecting employees and applicants. Those include race, color, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, age, religion, national origin, disability and genetic information.
That prompted a motion from Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) to add sexual orientation and gender identification to that list.
“Our schools continue to fail these students,” she said, and pointed out that people who identify as gay and transgender are more often targets for harassment and assault. “Our students are not going to speak up for themselves and neither are staff because they are not protected in any of our policies. … I implore my colleagues to be a champion for our LGBTQ population.”
Jeff Morse (Dulles), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said tacking on those two characteristics would only encourage the labeling of employees and students.
“I don’t put labels on anyone … and they should demand freedom from labels,” Morse said. “All they do is divide the students, the teachers and the community.”
“I think we need to start looking at people holistically,” Turgeon added. “We’re in compliance with law. I have not heard any issues of bullying among employees … and if there are, they should be dealt with severely.”
Joy Maloney (Broad Run) seconded Sheridan’s motion, saying that she would hate to hear of teachers who feels uncomfortable putting a picture of their spouse of the same gender on their desk. “This [policy] would go a long way,” she said.
Maloney and Beth Huck (At Large) also challenged their colleagues to delete the other 11 characteristics that are specified in the policy to demonstrate they were sincere in their comments about wanting to drop the labels all together.
“If labels don’t matter,” Huck said, “let’s give a general statement that says we do not discriminate, and leave it at that.”
Sheridan said that she’s met with students and school employees who identify as gay and transgender. “They said they want their label recognized.”
She pointed out that Arlington County, Falls Church and Fairfax County adopted policies that specifically protect students and employees of any sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination or sexual harassment. She said she was “most shocked” in her research to learn that the Loudoun County government’s personnel policy ensures fair treatment of all applicants and employees without regard to “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other non-merit factors.”
“This is not about bathrooms,” she said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case that is weighing whether to require public schools to let students use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. “This is about harassment and bullying and not allowing it in LCPS, for our staff or students. There is no cost to this. But the cost of not including it could be great.”
Board members ultimately agreed to hold off on a vote on the matter until they can get information from legal counsel on whether the law allows them to adopt a blanket equal opportunity statement. They plan a final vote Dec. 13.