Loudoun School Board Rejects Specific LGBT Protection Language

In a split vote Tuesday night, the Loudoun County School Board declined to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the protected characteristics listed in its equal employment policy.

Instead, the board unanimously voted to add a paragraph to the policy that states the school system hires employees based on merit and excellence. It also states that the board “recognizes and values the diversity of the students and broader community it serves and encourages diversity within its workforce.”

The School Board had twice delayed voting on the proposal policy in the wake of concerns raised by critics.

Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) offered the compromise. He said the new paragraph was intended to go beyond the requirements of state and federal law to highlight the school system’s values. “This is an opportunity to say more … that we hire because of merit because we want the best people working in our schools,” he said.

Four of the School Board members—Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), Beth Huck (At Large), Tom Marshall (Leesburg) and Joy Maloney (Broad Run)—settled for adding the paragraph, but said they preferred to specifically spell out in policy that employees and applicants will not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sheridan, who initially made the amendment to add the protective language to policy, said she knows of several LGBTQ teachers who feel they cannot put a picture of their spouse on their desk or bring their spouse to a work holiday party because they fear that their jobs could be at risk.

“Those are real stories in our school system,” she said. “I see you, I hear you, I speak for you. I may not have a majority with me tonight, but I will continue to use my voice and my position to stand with you.”

She also noted that the county board added the language to its employee policy seven years ago, saying, “I can’t believe we’re seven years behind the Board of Supervisors.”

School Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Several board members said they received “nasty” and “hateful” emails, from people on both sides of the debate. Beth Huck (At Large) said those proved to her that the board should do all it can to specifically protect members of the LGBT community.

In response to Bible verses that were read by several speakers ahead of the vote by those opposed to the LGBT protection language, Huck asked that they consider what their underlying faith teaches them. “My faith teaches me to love and that judgment is not mine,” she said.

Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), Eric DeKenipp (Catcotin) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian), who opposed the proposed policy change, said the board should wait for more clear direction from the state and supreme courts, which are both considering cases related to sexual orientation protections and rights. “It’s not the School Board’s role to identify our protected classes. It’s not our job,” DeKenipp said.

More than two dozen speakers addressed the board ahead of the vote. A similar number of people spoke in favor of adding the language and excluding it.

Charlotte McConnell, one of about a dozen people who spoke in support of specifying gender identity in the anti-discrimination policy, said that transgender people are more likely to face harassment on the job. “We are living in uncertain times. I think it’s time we all stand up and show that we appreciate them and we will protect them,” she said.

School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Bethany Kozma, of Fairfax County, where the School Board recently adopted similar language, said the change in policy could lead to a slippery slope that ultimately allows a male gym teacher who identifies as a woman to shower in the girls’ locker room with students. “You could potentially be opening your students up to sexual harassment,” she said.

The School Board also got the 2 cents of Loudoun County native and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D). Ahead of Tuesday’s decision, he wrote a letter urging them to add the specific language to policy to protect all of its employees and students, following an official legal opinion he wrote in 2015 about school boards’ authority to enact non-discrimination policies.

“I concluded in that opinion that local school boards have the authority to protect their students and teachers from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” he wrote.

Still, Will Estrada, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, warned School Board members Tuesday night that they may face legal challenges if they add “sexual orientation, gender identity” anti-discrimination wording to its policy. Fairfax County Public Schools’ adoption of a similar policy is being challenged in court.

“What this is is a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “There is no evidence that Loudoun teachers, principals, and staff are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

Connie Rice, a transgender woman who lives in Leesburg, told the board that transgender people should not be seen as the predators but vulnerable individuals in need of protection. “They are the most attacked people group. There are no cases of transgender people attacking people in bathrooms,” she said. “What’s the problem here? Is it just our mere presence or our mere appearance? Because that is the definition of discrimination.”

dnadler@loudounnow.com

2 thoughts on “Loudoun School Board Rejects Specific LGBT Protection Language

  • 2017-01-11 at 10:45 am
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    This was a no-brainer decision. If you have pending major legal decisions, why would you even consider this at this time? It makes no sense. Sometimes wait and see is the best solution and clearly this is one of those times.

  • 2017-01-11 at 3:56 pm
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    I would like to thank Brenda Sheridan, Beth Huck, Tom Marshall, and Joy Maloney for standing up last night and supporting our LGBTQ community. I want to invite everyone to join us at the Ashburn Library on Valentine’s Eve from 7:30-9pm. Together We Will Learn Gender Identity with Connie Rice from Equality Virginia’s Transgender Advocacy Speakers Bureau. Check http://tinyurl.com/hmajkql for more information or https://www.togetherwewillnova.org/

    I think it is great that the board “recognizes and values the diversity of the students and broader community it serves and encourages diversity within its workforce.” However, after reading this op-ed by Mr. LaRock I would disagree that you encourage diversity. You have been told that employees of the Loudoun County School District are afraid to display pictures of their spouse for fear of being fired and you have only solidified that fear.

    You say adding this paragraph “is an opportunity to say more … that we hire because of merit because we want the best people working in our schools,” but you are also saying that our LGBTQ community does not have merits. An LGBTQ person listening to last night’s public comments would not feel safe and supported by Loudoun County.

    My son is in Kindergarten and a few weeks ago he asked me on our way to school if a person was a man or a woman. I asked him what he thought and his was response was that he did not know. I then asked him if it mattered and what makes boys and girls different. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s gender is or what their sexual identity is unless you want to ask them out on a date or discriminate against them.

    Trans people are not trying to sneak into our bathrooms to have their way with our children. I have been unable to find any credible, documented cases of a Transgender person committing sexual assault. This fear is unfounded. However “One in Two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted.” This is reality and we need to help those who are at highest risk.

    Harry S. Truman said that “A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members”. I feel that Loudoun County is failing our weakest members. We are failing our LGBTQ community at a time when we should be standing up and screaming our support for them.

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