Op-Ed: Encouragement is not Protection

By Dan Johnson, Leesburg

The Loudoun County School Board voted last night not to include specific protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in its employment policies. People spoke Tuesday night with the usual reasons for and against this. No one, however, spoke of the most compelling reason to do so.

One woman claimed that gender identity is a non-issue, because you could tell unambiguously whether someone is male or female simply by counting the X chromosomes in someone’s cells. That one really surprised me but demonstrated that incorporating these protections in both policy and laws is important primarily to protect our school employees from people like HER, whose abject ignorance blinds them to who their neighbors are (and are not).

That leaves them “free” to believe and act based on that distortion. But it also leaves them feeling empowered to insist or demand that others must act on that basis as well.

That’s where the school board got this very wrong. This isn’t about bathrooms. This isn’t even about the students. People who don’t understand what this policy would address may naturally presume it must be about the children, because nothing else “fits” their distorted world-view.

Teachers and other professional educators may not need protection against their coworkers and students. They need protection against parents (and a small but vocal group of others in the community) who seek any way to attack our public schools.

They need protection against parents who might use the fact of their homosexuality to pressure their school’s administrators to act on that basis, whether through personnel action or providing unnecessary or unfair accommodations to their children at others’ expense. Or worse, they could leverage less direct or more insidious ways to attack educators they don’t like for whatever reason on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“But this hasn’t happened”, one might counter, “so why address a problem that doesn’t exist?” It may not exist because of the inauthentic behavior necessitated by the lack of the protection.

Here’s where the impact of the LACK of this policy for educators extends beyond their schools into their private lives. They, particularly those who are also effective and beloved teachers, are sometimes like “low-level” celebrities in some ways within their own communities. Students and former students recognize them while running errands and call attention to them in public places.

That’s wonderful, but for homosexual teachers who are in long-term, loving relationships, it means that some simple, innocent actions others get to take for granted are too risky for them to do.

  • Like introducing their family member or friend during encounters with others in their community.
  • Like holding the hand of their partner while walking on the sidewalk or in the parking lot or the store or sitting in a restaurant or theater.
  • Like grabbing a quick kiss when their partner drops them off at school or just because it’s natural – just like the many straight couples do around them without having to give it a second thought.
  • Like having a single picture of the love of their life visible anywhere in their workspace – or even sharing mundane details about what they did over the weekend.

Those things have nothing to do with students, though. They aren’t the ones with a problem. If they learn a teacher is gay, most all of them say “cool”, and it doesn’t matter to them – unless they happen to be struggling with their sexual identity as well, in which case that knowledge alone can help them feel less isolated and alone.

This isn’t about “elevating” anyone above anyone else nor treating anyone as “special”. It’s about protecting our public school educators’ and other employees’ ability to conduct themselves professionally and personally in ways that are appropriate for anyone else but not them without this sensible protection.

Unlike the assertion that anyone would “pretend” to be transgendered just to get into childrens’ bathrooms at school or anywhere else to “prey” upon them – which aside from being ludicrous on its face also betrays fundamental ignorance about what being transgendered means – what I described above aren’t outlandish, contrived examples.

They describe what I and my partner have had to live and deal with for the entire 15 years we have been together.

And that’s not right. Anti-discrimination policies like the one the school board just rejected are unfortunately the only viable way to address these inequities. All we want is to be assured of equal treatment just like anyone else. This has not been settled.

Some board members declined to support the inclusive language because it isn’t their job to dictate employment policy and that they refuse to allow policy to dictate decency. But intemperance and prejudice is there. It’s an unfortunate factor that may be a minority, but it is there.

It IS the school board’s job to create and maintain – to the best of their ability – an environment that fosters learning. The distraction of having to live one’s life inauthentically because of others’ prejudice detracts from that environment.

It IS within the purview and power of the board to express a policy of tolerance and against prejudice, because its absence anywhere in their written policy is inconsistent with their clearly expressed policies overall.

If the board does not want to amend this particular policy, then it seems incumbent on them to find another way.

Another amendment was offered in the form of an additional paragraph that expresses the school system’s desire to encourage diversity in its workforce. While that’s a good step and helps clarify the policy to some extent, it’s not quite good enough, because encouragement is not the same as protection. Only protection can address the issues raised above.

Regardless of last night’s failed vote, this issue is not settled.

3 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Encouragement is not Protection

  • 2017-01-11 at 3:09 pm
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    Let’s analyze Dan Johnson’s letter (not sure why LN gives him op-ed credits).

    Currently, LCPS asks parents to sign a permission form regarding HLS classes which begin around the 3rd or 4th grade. Does Dan Johnson also propose ending such forms and just “sticking it” to parents? Otherwise, he tacitly accepts that parents should have some control over when students start learning about sex in school.

    Johnson says teachers must be “protected” against parents. This is the heart of his letter. Teachers “always know best” and parents are idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to control their kids’ education regardless of what the Supreme Court has found.

    Johnson decries “unfair accommodations” to students based on parental input. But what does that mean? It means that if a 1st grade teacher decides to dress as a woman one day (in full wigs and makeup) and as a man (biological sex) the next, then parents should not even ask that their kids be transferred to a different class so they don’t have to unnecessarily deal with this controversial social topic in the first grade. Johnson believes teachers’ whims override any parental concerns plain and simple.

    Will this happen often? No. But does any LGBTQ employment discrimination happen now? Johnson cannot point to a single case in which LCPS is alleged to have discriminated on the basis of LGBTQ status. And we know that LCPS rates 99.5% of teachers as effective. Nobody believes that, but if LCPS were to even evaluate an LGBTQ teacher less than satisfactory, you better believe that 99.5% effective rating fact would be used by the LGBTQ teacher in their employment complaint.

    Would high school students care if a teacher acted in this way? Probably not. But LCPS is not going to enact separate policies for grades 1-3, 4-7, and 8-12. If a policy cannot handle all hypothetical situations, it is not well thought out. What this movement really wants is for the majority of society (only ~2.5% happen to be LGBTQ) to get sensitivity training so they can be one with the angst of the movement. It’s a very vocal minority. We shouldn’t discriminate but we also shouldn’t pander to every special interest who wished the world revolved around them.

    • 2017-01-11 at 11:44 pm
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      “Johnson says teachers must be “protected” against parents. This is the heart of his letter. Teachers “always know best” and parents are idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to control their kids’ education regardless of what the Supreme Court has found.”
      Apparently we read different articles.
      This is not about parents controlling the classroom, which is not viable anyway – unless we go to drastically reduced class sizes, like 1:1. It’s about living. It’s about not being afraid when a student spots you and your spouse at the farmers market, not losing your job because you were wearing a dress instead of chinos, being accepted and valued for the effort you pour into other people’s kids. The fact that this still needs to be spelled out is why we need to have the language added to employment policies.

      • 2017-01-12 at 10:12 am
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        You know full well teachers are not terminated for having non-hetero relationships. But just like AG Herring and others now try to expand the definition of “sex” to create new rights from old legislation, this proposed policy was vague and intended to be expanded (via interpretation) later on.

        Would adding the clause “outside the classroom and interaction with students” be acceptable? Parents currently choose when sex is discussed with their youngsters. I don’t want any teacher talking about sex outside HLS with my kids. And I don’t think any teacher should dress (or talk like Damron did) provocatively near students. Again, it is not about how you or I actually interpret it, but how an arbitration panel or court might interpret the language.

        And what other groups (particularly small ones of less than 5%) should we include? Should we have a laundry list of protected classes? You should consider that before adding to the major classes under current law (sex, race, religion).

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