Loudoun Co. School Board adds gender identity to protected-status list

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WASHINGTON — The Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes of students and staff protected by the system’s anti-discrimination policy.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Vice Chair Brenda Sheridan, Beth Huck, Joy Maloney, Chris Croll and Tom Marshall voting for the measure, and Chair Jeff Morse, Debbie Rose, Eric Hornberger and Jill Turgeon voting against.

Advocates of the change, both on the board and in the audience, cited the principle of equal protection and the need for transgender students to feel secure in school; opponents mentioned the possibility of students of different sexes sharing bathrooms and locker rooms, and of students assaulting each other.

‘We can’t lose any more kids’

Croll cited statistics that show 40 percent of transgender adults have tried to kill themselves at some point in life, and that of those, 92 percent had tried it before turning 25. “We can’t lose any more kids,” she said. “We just can’t.”

Marshall pointed out that many on both sides of the debate had invoked God as support for their position. He said, “God gives us a free will and a bundle of talents and strengths. But he also gives us all of us from time to time … a bundle of challenges we can buckle under or emerge from as the unique individual we all are.

“We can’t expect God to do everything for us, but we can ask for help when we feel the most vulnerable. … We are most vulnerable while we are growing into adulthood … [and] some of our most vulnerable students are in the LGBTQ community. And if adding language to our equal-opportunity policy gives them a sense of appreciation and some understanding as well as acceptance, then that is the right thing to do.”

Another parent, who identified herself as a Christian and the mother of a ninth-grader, said her child is transgender and experiences depression and suicidal thoughts. “Gender dysphoria is not something anyone would choose for herself or their child.”

She added, “She doesn’t drink water and barely eats at school because of not feeling comfortable going to the restroom … and I don’t blame her.”

She concluded, “When board members say, ‘What about our girls?’ I say ‘What about my child? Who protects her?”

‘Someone’s rights could be violated’

Turgeon, speaking against the measure, said, “Our primary concern is making sure we are addressing the needs of all of our students. Does that mean every child is going to be comfortable 100 percent of the time? No.”

She brought up the example of a girl who had recently said she’s uncomfortable dressing around other girls.

“That’s hard to hear. But are we offering individual locker rooms for children because they’re uncomfortable dressing around other girls? No.” Turgeon later added that she was concerned about “the rights of the girls who are in those restrooms dressing in front of males.”

Rose said, “The question of rights is always about finding a balance,” and that her opposition to the measure was rooted in protecting “the privacy rights of other students.” She called the proposal “a major change that LCPS is not prepared to implement.”

Parent Heather West said the measure “was not needed,” that current anti-bullying rules provided sufficient protection. She added, “Quit pushing the envelope. I am here to push back.”

“Any way that this comes out could mean that someone’s rights could be violated,” Morse said. “ … And that’s important, because we could be in a no-win situation.”

The board also voted against language that would explicitly say that current practices regarding locker rooms, bathrooms and overnight field trips would stay the same until the board made explicit changes.

The policy now reads:

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.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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