School Board Narrowly Passes Protections for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

 Last night, following eighty speakers and over an hour of debate among the school board members, the Loudoun County School Board voted on a LGBTQ discrimination policy which affirms that Loudoun County has in its values to protects teachers, students, and visitors of Loudoun County Public Schools from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The substitution was drafted by Debbie Rose and then was substituted again by Chris Croll to add gender identity, after Croll’s substitution, the policy was passed in a 5-4 vote.

This policy affirms that Loudoun County recognizes members of the county who are in these protected classes, and recognizes that they will be protected from discrimination. A similar policy was debated two years ago, but was voted against in a 4-5 vote.

The official new policy states that, “The Loudoun County School Board is committed to providing for an equitable, safe and inclusive learning and working environment. The Loudoun County School Board affirms a commitment to this principle for all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, age, or genetic information. It is the intent of the School Board of Loudoun County that every policy, practice, and procedure shall reflect this commitment. Behavior that is not unlawful may nevertheless be unacceptable for the educational environment or the workplace. Demeaning or otherwise harmful actions are prohibited, particularly if directed at personal characteristics, including, but not limited to socioeconomic level, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Michael Richards, Chief of Staff to the Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools, said, “The school board will have to take this language into consideration in the future in terms of other policies that may be related to this one. And so there will be a lengthy review process of other policies going forward.” Every policy is mandated to be reviewed every 5 years, but Richards has implemented a review every 4 years to not worry about time constraints. He stated that a member may bring up policy change at any time. 

On account of the policy, Debbie Rose, the school board member from the Algonkian district who voted against Croll’s substitution, said, “What was passed last night was simply a statement of commitment to principles of equity.”

Chris Croll, the school board member from the Catoctin district, addressed these concerns made by Rose and others of transgender student, teachers, and guests going into the bathroom of which they identify, “You can’t just wake up one day and say, Okay, today I’m a girl, I’m gonna hang out on the the girls locker room,” she added on by saying, “They sort of have to go through a commitment to demonstrate a commitment to that other sex, whether it’s a number of years or changing your birth certificate or whatever it is.” Despite this concern, both protections passed. Croll said, “We wanted to make sure that transgender students and LGBT students had the same protections.”

Jenna Johnston
The school board meeting was heavily attended with the vote on gender identity and sexual orientation protections scheduled.

While the decision to pass sexual orientation as a protected class was not highly debated, more concerns were raised when it came to passing gender identity as a protected class. Rose said, “I’ve been pushing against this policy with the inclusion of the gender identity portion, because we aren’t prepared as a school division to make sure that we’re both maximizing the inclusivity of the transgender students, and at the same time, protecting the privacy rights and security and other students.”

Croll plans to continue to work on giving the LGBTQ community in Loudoun County more protections, she said, “What we’re going to do next, the harder work is we’re going to go through each individual policy. We have a non discrimination policy, we have a hiring policy, we have a bullying policy. And we’re going to add these two protected classes into each of those policies.”

Equality of Loudoun member Amber Beichler said of the policy passing, This new policy sends a strong message that LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff have been waiting for years. A message that they are seen and their identities are valid in LCPS. I hope that LGBT faculty members will feel more comfortable to have pictures of their spouse, and that students will be able to feel safer to speak out against bullying in their schools. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but this was a necessary first step for Loudoun County to catch up with our neighbors in Fairfax and Prince William County.”

Many Dominion voices were heard in the proposal of this policy, including English teacher Dr. Phillips, speaking at the first meeting on February 12th.

Dr. Phillips, the sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Dominion, who spoke of the importance of having this policy, said, “This is so important to send the message to our LGBT students that care about them. And it’s not acceptable to us that they’re experiencing discrimination, that they’re being treated like second class citizens in our schools, and that we love them for who they are.”

Dr. Phillips continued to speak upon the effect that this policy will have on students, “They don’t have a choice right, like I have a choice of where I live. If I don’t feel comfortable here, I can go someplace else. But our young people don’t have that choice,” but since this policy has been put in place, she said, “It makes me proud to be a teacher here.”

Still she expressed the need for continued protections for the LGBTQ community, she said, “We do need to make sure that our policy changes are legally binding,” she also spoke on the importance of having LGBTQ role models and leaders at schools, “I think we also need to make sure that we are hiring diverse candidates. Our students need [LGBTQ] representatives. They need role models in our schools.”

Jenna Johnston
Students display their signs for the February 26th School Board meeting.

Students from GSA, Skylar Holmgrain and President Grayson Bradstock, also spoke at the meeting on February 26th about why they felt that the policy needed to be passed. Holmgrain said of the policy, “I hope it changes unacceptable as well as unnecessary biases that LGBT students and faculty face in Loudoun County.” Holmgrain also mentioned in regards to the policy, “What is just as important as the language is that they follow through on holding discrimination accountable.”

Previously when asked how he would feel about the policy, Bradstock said, “It would mean a lot, especially for all my kids in GSA because they all feel like outcasts and having this implemented gives them the visibility that they need, especially just in the school system in general.”