The School Board and Board of Supervisors have passed resolutions recognizing June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, and June 5 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Supervisors were divided over their board’s vote.
“The other day when we talked about Virginia passing historic gun safety regulations and giving us the right as a county to take action on many of these, and so I think it’s fitting that on the heels of this that we pass this proclamation,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), referring back to her comments on May 22 when supervisors launched a review of local authority over gun laws. “It’s way overdue, and like I said earlier, it tells the community that we think that action is needed rather than thoughts and prayers.”
“One of the things that this resolution states very clearly and exactly is that it encourages responsible gun ownership, so I don’t see the argument here that anyone is going to try to take away law-abiding citizens’ guns,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “The resolution itself encourages responsible gun ownership, and I am happy to support it.”
But Republican supervisors at the meeting opposed both, and for the same stated reasons each time. Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) referred to a passage in the supervisors’ own Rules of Order, approved unanimously at their first meeting in January, that “due to the nature and purpose of Board Resolutions, they should not be controversial and it is preferable that all resolutions be approved by a unanimous vote from the Dais.”
“I don’t believe the board did any similar resolutions to this prior to this board that were highly controversial,” Kerhsner said. “I certainly could bring forth many resolutions that many of my colleagues would not agree with, but I would not do it, because I believe they would be highly controversial.”
And Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) held fast to a stance he has stuck by during his time as a supervisor. He acknowledged the board must sometimes hold votes on topics of controversy in the community, “but nonbinding resolutions are a different matter, and they have always at least until now been treated as such on the board.”
“I will remain consistent with my longstanding position on board resolutions, and be abstaining on both resolutions … this evening,” Letourneau said. “This is not a reflection on my concerns about gun violence—and all violence for that matter, but particularly gun violence tonight—or my support for nondiscrimination policies that ensure equal opportunities for citizens and employees regardless of sexual orientation.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) acknowledged that the gun violence resolution “doesn’t do anything,” and pledged that “within the next year, I’m actually going to find an honest-to-goodness way to address gun suicide.” She added “if next year I do not do anything, or I do not do anything that is effective, I won’t support this resolution next year, because a resolution without any action is just really moot.”
On Pride Month, Kershner said “My concern as I mentioned in the last one is what we actually… we’re kind of treating those with a certain sexual orientation in a different way and I think we’ve moved far beyond that as a society.” Then, apparently contradicting himself, “also, the lifestyle is still somewhat controversial, depending on who you talk to—millions of people in America feel differently, thousands of people in Loudoun feel differently.”
Both resolutions passed 6-1-1, with Kershner opposed, Letourneau abstaining, and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.
Randall also said she will remove the three Republican supervisors’ signature lines from the resolution, marking perhaps the first time ceremonial resolutions have been presented without the names of some supervisors.
The School Board’s unanimous vote to adopt a resolution supporting National Gun Violence Awareness Day was taken as the board’s May 26 meeting.
The proclamation declares the first Friday in June to be “National Gun Violence Awareness Day in the Loudoun County Public Schools to honor and remember all victims and survivors of gun violence and to declare that we as a country must do more to reduce gun violence.”
During its June 2 meeting, the School Board approved a resolution proclaiming the celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June. The resolution, sponsored by board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), “urges all to respect and honor our diverse community and celebrate and build a culture of inclusivity and equity, both during Pride Month as well as during the other eleven months of the year.” That resolution passed on a 7-1-1 vote, with John Beatty (Catoctin) opposed and Jeff Morse (Dulles) absent for the vote.
This week, the School Board also unanimously approved a resolution calling for state and federal action on climate change. The action directs Superintendent Eric Williams to develop recommendations to expand environmental curricular and educational opportunities, support student advocacy, and include student voice in environmental and climate policy and practice discussions; and to report on changes in state and federal policy that support the goal of reducing carbon consumption, along with staff proposals to make best use of those opportunities in facilities and transportation planning. The resolution also requires Williams and the board’s Legislative and Policy Committee to “call on the members of the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress to act boldly on climate change and provide a regulatory framework that removes barriers to progress on climate action and encourages the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy technology.”
Gun violence in particular has become a regular topic of debate in Loudoun, as repeated instances of stray bullets hitting yards homes, and even a person over the last Board of Supervisors term eventually resulted, after months of controversy, in a slight modification to local gun safety ordinances.
The Board of Supervisors has waded increasingly into hot-button issues in state and national politics since the 2019 elections. After her reelection in November 2019, Randall said that the board would begin taking stances on more debates in the General Assembly, and before this year’s General Assembly session Democratic supervisors passed a resolution supporting the Equal Rights Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender along party lines.
It is also not the first attempt at some of those resolutions for the Board of Supervisors.
In 2016, her first year on the board, Randall sought to bring forward a resolution recognizing Gun Violence Awareness Day. That sparked controversy in the boardroom, with people packing into the boardroom the day of the vote to argue both for and against the resolution.
That same year, an attempt to pass a resolution recognizing Pride Month led instead to the board changing its rules to take sole authority over putting resolutions on the board’s agenda away from Randall. For the rest of that term, she shared veto authority over ceremonial resolutions with then-Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), a safeguard that was rolled back with the new board.
Supervisors at that time also adopted instead the first—and so far last—”Love Loudoun Month.” Coming in the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, the resolution reads said Loudoun County “stands in solidarity with the victims of the Orlando, Florida terrorist attack,” but that “Loudoun County’s diversity is so rich we could honor a different group of extraordinary citizens every day.”