For the past year, about a dozen parents, students and teachers have marked their calendars for the second Tuesday of each month. And on those days, they’ve stepped to the mic to ask the Loudoun County School Board to revisit a decision made Jan. 10, 2017.
During their meeting last week, almost exactly a year since the board declined to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the protected characteristics listed in its equal employment policy, board members addressed the speakers who have become familiar faces at their meetings.
“I appreciate that you’re persisting and you have my support,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said late Tuesday evening.
Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said she hadn’t prepared comments, but needed to mention that she continues to be moved by the speakers. “It takes courage to come and speak out when you are not supported, and it takes courage to be public when many people in the public do not think you are equal to them,” she said. “I am your advocate and your ally. At some point we will progress to a point where you are included in our anti-discrimination policy.”
A year ago, the board voted 4-5 to not add language to its employee policies that specifically stated that employees would not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Instead, it 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.”
Maloney, Sheridan, Beth Huck (At Large), and Tom Marshall (Leesburg) favored adding more specific language to protect members of the LGBT community.
Speakers have persistently asked the five board members on the opposite side of the vote to revisit their decision.
Loudoun County government’s policy specifically states that applicants and employees will be treated fairly without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, as well eight other characteristics. School divisions in Prince William and Fairfax counties have also adopted similar policies.
Nine people addressed the board at its Jan. 9 meeting, including teachers, parents, and an eighth-grade student who said she recently came out as gay.
Nadia Leiby, a lesbian and senior at Loudoun County High School, told the board that her teacher told her during the election season last year that she disagreed with her lifestyle. “It made me feel unsafe in a place where I should feel protected,” she said, adding that a change in the policy language would make employees and students feel protected. “Do the right thing. Revisit the policy.”
Potomac Falls High School student Luc Teyssier said he felt a “deep guttural fear” throughout his academic career because he felt that being gay was something he should be ashamed of. He reached out to the gay-straight alliance clubs at most of the county’s high schools to ask them to address the School Board, but all of them declined.
“There was one recurring theme for why that was: fear,” he said. “You may not know who they are but they are the students who you as a board have a duty to protect.”
Andrea Weiskopf called the fight for equal rights for members of the LGBT community is the “civil rights question of our time.” “Fifty years ago, Loudoun stood for segregation. Today, we recognize our shame,” she said. “But if we do not stand up for civil rights and justice now, our grandchildren will be ashamed of us.”
Several School Board members took time during the board comments portion of the meeting to address the speakers.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said there’s a misperception about why they voted to include the paragraph that states they hire based on merit, but not the paragraph that would specifically list sexual orientation protections.
“What is being perceived in the public—that I don’t care—is not true of me,” Turgeon said. She said she’s had good, productive conversations with advocates of the LGBT community and reached a mutual understanding. “So I welcome any further discussions.”
“I personally support all students, and I find that people often characterize our position on this as a position against all children. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Morse said. “I’ll continue to support all of our students and I expect our teachers and staff to do the same.”
Those who initially voted to add the protective language, including Marshall, who chairs the board’s Human Resources and Talent Development Committee, said it may be time to revisit the matter.
“I have some genuine concerns about the number and frequency of comments from students asking that we strengthen our non-discrimination policy by adding gender and sexual orientation,” Marshall said.
Referring to Leiby’s comment that a teacher told her she disagreed with her lifestyle, he said, “I kind of wonder if we had these two items added to our policy, would that statement be permissible from a teacher to a student?”