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Loudoun Co. school board to revisit protections for LGBT students

This 2015 file photo shows one of Loudoun County's newest schools, Riverside High School. The county school board is expected to resume debate next week whether to add new protections against discrimination and harassment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and employees students and employees. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — Loudoun County’s school board could vote as early as next week on whether to add new protections against discrimination and harassment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and employees students and employees.

A spokesman for the public school system said the school board is expected to take up the issue on Tuesday, although it’s unclear whether a vote will be taken.

In December, the board delayed a vote on whether to adopt a policy that would provide such protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and staff.

The ACLU-Virginia sent a letter to the county after members of the public and a Virginia lawmaker stated at the meeting that the school board did not have the authority to adopt policies that go beyond state and federal laws.

“We think that’s good policy,” ACLU-Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga told WTOP. “We also think it’s legally permitted, and, in fact, we believe (that) because of their status as a public body and their obligations to enforce the Constitution, they have an obligation to act.”

Gastañaga said the board has the authority and the responsibility to protect students and employees from unconstitutional discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Frankly, the school division needs to decide whether it wants to defend the rights of LGBT students and employees, and stand up for the idea that they should be able to go to school or work in a discrimination-free environment, or kowtow and fold, and send a different message,” she said.

Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, has been a vocal opponent of the proposed LGBT policies.

In an Op-Ed published in The Loudoun Tribune, LaRock wrote: “Mental and physical health issues which are more prevalent among homosexuals and gender-confused people will open a Pandora’s box of liability, health insurance, and counseling costs.”

In an interview with WTOP, LaRock elaborated on how he views bigotry and prejudice.

“When people exhibit prejudice and bigotry in making a decision, that’s not good discrimination, but being able to differentiate between what’s appropriate or inappropriate is absolutely necessary,” LaRock said.

LaRock said he opposes bigotry and prejudice, but he said the word “discrimination” should be likened to the word “differentiate.”

“Absolutely,” he said. “(School officials) have to be able to discriminate and choose the right people to be teachers and role models in classrooms.”

LaRock was asked if he thinks homosexuals should be employed as teachers in Loudoun County.

“I look at the science and data that has been assembled that says the homosexual lifestyle has high incidents of things like mental difficulties, mental complications, higher rates of certain diseases,” LaRock said.

“Parents ought to be aware of these sides of this issue and be part of the process of making the decisions of who they want to be role models for their children,” he said.

Gastañaga said “reasonable lawyers can differ” on whether the board is obligated to approve the new protections, but she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a lawsuit if the board voted against the new policy.

“We’re already in a circumstance where Fairfax County is being sued because they did the right thing and moved forward with a positive policy, and we’ve made clear we will stand beside Fairfax County,” Gastañaga said.

Gastañaga was referencing a lawsuit that sought to overturn protections for gay and transgender students at Fairfax County’s public schools. The Washington Post reported that in early 2016, a judge overturned an effort to get rid of these protections.


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