Loudoun Co. School Board halts comment period on transgender policy following raucous crowd

The Loudoun County School Board in Virginia abruptly cut off its public comment period Tuesday night, when a crowd commenting on a proposed policy that would expand transgender student rights became unruly.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said one person was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Another person has been cited for trespassing.

Board Chair Brenda Sheridan repeatedly warned that loud public demonstration violated the decorum of the meeting. The board recessed for five minutes because of the disruption and then voted to end the public comment. The business portion of the meeting resumed.

“I do not believe I can let the disruption that occurred in our board room tonight go unanswered,” Sheridan said in a statement, after Tuesday’s meeting. “Dog-whistle politics will not delay our work, we will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity.”

Speakers against the proposed Policy 8040 listed concerns, such as biology, privacy and how their views were not heard during the process. The crowd repeatedly cheered public speakers who lashed out at school board members and denounced the plan that would provide bathroom and locker room access based on a student’s gender identity.

Transgender student athletes would be allowed to participate on teams based on their gender identity and teachers and staff would be required to use students’ preferred pronouns.

One student who spoke said that being a girl is not all in her head.

“Boys who identify as girls are no different from boys who identify as boys, except in their feelings about themselves. But boy, the feelings are not why we have separate bathrooms. We have separate bathrooms because of what our bodies do in them. Bodies matter. Calling girls bigots because they don’t want to use the toilet and a stall next to a boy or get undressed next to a boy is cruel and wrong,” the student said, ending her comment with, “Girls’ bathrooms do not exist to validate identities.”

Another speaker, who said he studied and lived in China, compared teacher Tanner Cross’ suspension when he said he would not follow the policy, to communist rule.

A judge ordered Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate Cross, saying the school system’s action was unconstitutional. The school system has said it will appeal to Virginia’s Supreme Court.

A person who spoke in favor of the proposed policy said that it hurt no one and helps some at-risk kids to feel welcome at the school

“Using correct names and pronouns for transgender and nonbinary kids is suicide prevention,” the speaker said.

Another speaker, who identified herself as a doctor, said that “variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity. Gender Identity evolves as an interplay of biology development, socialization and culture.”

A rising eighth grader said students deserve to be safe in school, and making pronouns more normalized can help with the acceptance of trans kids.

“Things like putting pronouns next to name tags or having teachers teach students about pronouns make all the difference in normalizing it. Let’s keep moving forward instead of backward. So my friends and brother, feel safe in school. Thank you,” the student said.

The final speaker before the public comment period was ended was retired state Sen. Dick Black, of Ashburn. He criticized the board for what Black said was retaliation against Cross and accused the board of historically suppressing free speech.

“It’s absurd and immoral for teachers to call boys girls and girls boys. You’re making teachers lie to students. And even kids know that it’s wrong,” Black said.

Black also criticized the board’s drive to include critical race theory in the education curriculum, claiming that it teaches children to hate other because of their skin color.

“I am disgusted by your bigotry,” Black said before his allotted time ran out and his mic was cut off.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines critical race theory as an “intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.”

Vice Chair Atoosa Reaser asked the chair to end the public comment, and her motion was quickly seconded and approved, while the audience hooted and booed.

The school board is not scheduled to vote on the proposal until August.

Watch NBC Washington’s coverage below.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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