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Bullied LGBTQ students say Loudoun County schools lack adequate protections

Clair Hayden is a recent Loudoun County Public Schools student who wishes the local school system had protections specifically against bullying LGBTQ youths. Times-Mirror/Amelia Heymann
Clair Hayden was a teenager starting her senior year at Potomac Falls High School, but this year was proving to be different. She found herself bullied and isolated by fellow classmates. On the first day of school, she said there was a circle of empty desks around her in every class.

As the semester went on, she was physically and verbally harassed. One classmate pushed her up against a locker, saying, “Just go kill yourself.”

Why the sudden bullying? Because Clair Hayden had recently come out as transgender.

Bullying remains a tangible problem for students of all stripes, but for many lesbian, gay, transgender and queer youths in Loudoun County, the abuse is especially bad, say supporters of the LGBTQ community.

While Loudoun Couty government employees are protected from discrimination based their sexual orientation or gender identity, the county’s public school children aren't awarded the same security.

The LCPS student rights and responsibilities handbook defines bullying as “harassment based upon race, religion, ethnic origin, sex.” Nowhere in the definition is sexual orientation or gender identity included.

Stephanie Knott, public information coordinator for LCPS, said while LGBT students aren’t specifically referenced in the county’s anti-bullying policy, the policy protects a “broad spectrum of students.”

“Bullying and cyber bullying are prohibited at all times, and it is the policy of the Loudoun County School Board to create bully-free learning environments,” the policy reads. “Such incidents should be investigated and handled by school staff as quickly and expediently as possible.”

But how sufficiently bullying against LGBTQ students is being handled is questioned by Hayden and others interviewed by the Times-Mirror.

Charlotte McConnell, a Loudoun mother of two, said it’s important to have LGBTQ-inclusive language because these children are more at risk for bullying.

“Being different in any way, especially at the high school and middle school level, can make kids an easy target,” McConnell said. “If they are growing up in an environment that’s not very LGBT-tolerant, they will definitely see that as an excuse to pick on other kids.”

A 2015 survey by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention found that 34 percent of lesbian and gay students were harassed on school property because of their sexuality. Another study by the CDC found that LGBTQ children are five to six times more likely to skip school than their heterosexual classmates due to safety concern. This social stress from classmates and family has an impact of the student’s mental health. Stomp Out Bullying, an anti-bullying nonprofit organization, states gay teens are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Bullying also impacts student’s grades. In a study, psychologists at UCLA determined that students who face bullying results in lower grades, in some cases a 1.5-point drop in the GPA of a class.

Clair Hayden almost left public school to be home-schooled because of the pains of bullying. Clair’s mother, Susan Hayden, said one reason she stayed was because a neighbor from down the street talked her out of it “He said, ‘Clair, please stay in school, everyone deserves a great senior year,’” Susan Hayden said. “It’s something I hold as a real treasure in the back of my mind.”

Last January a proposal to add LGBTQ-inclusive language to the school’s policy was brought up, but the motion was voted down by the School Board in a 4-5 vote. The policy would have granted protection against discrimination to LGBTQ employees at LCPS, but students were not a part of the debate.

Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) voted against the clause because he did not feel it was the boards job to “create protected classes.” Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) agreed with DeKenipp, saying the Supreme Court will decide if the policy needs to be changed or not.

Counties around Loudoun have already started moving their policies toward protecting LGBTQ students and staff. Fairfax County has provisions protecting LGBTQ youth, and the protection for these students was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court. Prince William County recently added similar protections.

McConnell said, unfortunately, she thinks Loudoun will become the last county in the area to protect its LGBTQ students and staff.

Even though the school system does not formally support its LGBTQ youth, some faculty have gone out of their way to help students struggling with educating their classmates. Clair Hayden’s principal tried to smooth the student’s transition by informing teachers about her new name and urging them to put it on their attendance sheets until the name was legally changed. Hayden said the principal tried to help her the best she knew how to.

But not all LCPS employees have been as accommodating.

Recent LCPS graduate Samuel Hamblin did not think his counselor respected his gender identity. Facebook Photo


Samuel Hamblin, a transgender man who recently graduated from Loudoun Valley High School, said he was treated worse by teachers than by students.

Hamblin said he went to the school counselor to ask for help with how to express his preferred pronouns to his classmates and teachers. Hamblin claims the counselor just told him repeatedly he “believed in the Bible,” and he didn’t agree with him being trans. Hamblin said that treatment has made him wary of correcting people about his pronouns to this day.

“I’ve had a great deal of trouble telling them, ‘Hey that’s incorrect, please call me he,’ because I’m afraid I’ll get the same backlash,” Hamblin said.

According to Knott, the LCPS spokeswoman, if a counselor is approached by a student with an issue they are uncomfortable with, the counselor should ask a colleague in the counseling department to step in and help the student. Knott added that if a counselor were to talk to a student the way Hamblin said he was addressed, LCPS administration should have handled the concern with the counselor and found another professional to help the student.

Hamblin said he did not formally report the unsettling incident with his counselor. However, after his principal heard him talk about it at a School Board meeting, the principal told Hamblin she would speak with the counselor.

Clair Hayden said even if LGBTQ protection language is added to LCPS policies, whether the teachers enforce it will be the real issue. She also expressed hoped staff won't wait until there’s a formal policy to start helping students.

“I wish when people saw discrimination occurring they would be more willing to stand up,” said Clair Hayden. “If just one person starts moving and trying to lend a hand, many other people will follow suite. Even just having some good-hearted teachers stand up for queer kids when they see bullying would be a huge help.”


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia or on Facebook @journalistameliaheymann.

Comments


Using fundamentalist Christian beliefs to bully students?  Sounds like that counselor has a bright future at Dominion High School!


David Dickinson, how are you blaming this local (and probably many other things) on Herring? Dillon Rule, if it violates federal rule will not stand up. There is no room for discrimination in Virginia, no matter what the republican Assembly says. Hate is hate and should not be tolerated.


What is being discussed here is policy, not law. An anti-discrimination policy within LCPS, whether for employment practices or how it handles bullying is not law, therefore it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Dillon Rule.

Furthermore, the idea that a public school system should be prohibited from promulgating policies that maintain a healthy educational environment unless they are specifically allowed by legislation is ludicrous.

VDOE: “Section § 22.1-276.01 of the Code defines bullying as any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. This includes cyberbullying. It does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict. School boards are expected to include bullying as a prohibited behavior in their student codes of conduct.”

We’re not talking about ordinary teasing or horseplay here, either, but rather bullying that clearly intimidates and humiliates, it cuts to the core of one’s identity, and it occurs often enough on the basis of sexual orientation and is destructive enough that it needs to be addressed explicitly in the policy. Most important, it addresses characteristics of self that the victim cannot change, even if they wanted to. That’s not creating a “special class” but rather acknowledging a problem and facing it directly.

The rhetoric that dismisses it as “not a problem” or “not worthy of a distinction” needs to be called out as little more than thinly-veiled support of the intimidation through an attempt to normalize it. That’s unacceptable.


I do think everyone has the right to go to school and NOT be bullied. What you cannot legislate however, is when a person says, I’m now a different gender and I want you to also pretend that I’m that gender.


Again, we see the work of the Man of Lawlessnes-Attorney General Mark Herring.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state meaning localities only have the powers specifically given to them by the state.  Previous AG’s warned localities against attempting to extend protected class status at the local level.  It is a matter reserved by the state.

But Mark Herring (when he isn’t confiscating money and handing out raises to his staff) has turned a blind eye to the law.  That’s what Democrats do best.  If you don’t like the laws, you just ignore them when you can mete out political favors.

I can’t wait until November when we can oust Leesburg’s biggest embarrassment.


With LCPS/LCSB tackling the tough issues, like dress code…at least we know our kids will know “what not to wear” when either bullying or getting bullied.

Way to go LCPS…you’re attention to the issues that matter are on full display here.


Kids will push the limits and get away with what they can get away with.  We need to pay people to be in these schools - responsible adults with some kind of vested interest in the students - to enforce anti-bullying policies.  LCPS are such a monumental disappointment that we are happily paying out the nose for private schooling for 2.  Guess what?  While issues still boil up from time to time, there is nowhere near the corruption that has taken hold of LCPS from the Board on down.  Bullying is wrong, period.  LGBT or gender identity should have nothing to do with enforcing existing policy.  Absolutely pathetic.


Bullying is wrong.  Wish the school board would tackle issues like this instead of spaghetti straps and dress code stuff…


It’s not the boards job to “create protected classes”? Or just not the boards job to create protections for groups Mr. DeKenipp and Mr. Morse don’ personally support?

A quick check of the LCPS Harassment and Discrimination Policy reveals very specific clauses based on Age, Disability, National Origin, Race, or Religion.

LGBTQ are subjected to significant bullying, and it’s clear that school administrators and counselors are un-equipped to respond appropriately to it. Of course, those protections should be formalized.


There’s no question that in macho, sports crazy, artificial turf field and press boxes instead of special ed Loudoun, these kids have targets on them.  That said, I’m not sure that identifying them as a protected class does them any good.  My kid was bullied at Eagle Ridge and Briar Woods by the child of a prominent sports figure for years.  Parents were informed, meetings were held, promises of separate classes were made and ignored, and it literally didn’t stop until the day the bully’s parents moved—years later.  The bullies know the current policy has no teeth and don’t give a damn—and their parents excuse their behavior and threaten lawsuits. 

Transgender kids should be protected, but so should everyone else.  Until a few bullies actually get expelled, and the kids see it, nothing will change and we’ll risk more suicides and more Columbines from kids who snap.


Litigation on this issue will soon eventually cost the taxpayers of this County millions.  Maybe then they will not vote such zealots into office and get people who understand the word “Reasonable.”  Until then let the citizens pay for their lack of vision in the voting booth.


LCPS has a problem with bullying period. It doesn’t matter what type of bullying: LGBTQ, not being wealthy, being “too sensitive,” etc. My daughter was bullied from elementary through high school and shed many a tear over it over the years at home. All I could do was hug her and tell her to ignore it because everything really would be alright and soon she’d be done with it all. College is a whole new world and a lot easier to assimilate with like-minded folks. LCPS admin didn’t do squat for her. All they did was put a mediator in a room with the bully and my daughter to “listen and coach them” on working out their own issues. After that, the bully went right back to bullying except it got worse. Screw LCPS Admin, seriously.  Furthermore, I would think that even the broad term of “sex” in the current policy language includes ANY sexual identity, whether the person is born female, born male, hetero, lesbian/gay, trans, etc. Specific language shouldn’t need to be added. That’s just labeling and singling out certain individuals. What needs to be done is that LCPS Admin needs to step up and punish harshly for bullying, period; on a scale just like drugs and weapons.  A literal NO TOLERANCE policy for bullying. I read further down the article and got even more angry. I don’t rat’s behind if you believe in the Bible or not. Keep church OUT of schools and OUT of government.  It belongs AT CHURCH and AT HOME for a reason ... because not everyone share’s the same religious beliefs in this country.  Quit shoving YOUR personal beliefs at someone else or using it as a guideline to do your public duty and job. If you’re a school counselor or teacher, for instance, you better treat EVERY student AND staff member the SAME. I don’t care what color they are, who they love, what gender they identify as, NOTHING. They’re HUMANS period. If you can’t handle it, don’t be a counselor or teacher. If you’re a pharmacist, you better sell birth control to whoever has a prescript for it. If you can’t handle it, don’t be a pharmacist. If you own a bakery and take money for a cake order, you better bake a cake for every customer who orders one and decorate it exactly how they want. If you don’t agree with the LGBTQ lifestyle, tough doodoo ... everyone deserves cake.  STEP UP, LCPS ... STEP UP!!!!!!!  FOR STAFF, FOR STUDENTS, FOR EVERYONE!!!!!!!


Bullying is wrong. Period.


I agree with Chris McHale’s sentiment.

The bullying should not have been allowed in the first place.  We don’t need to update a handbook or create a protected class for this.  What happened with “it is the policy of the Loudoun County School Board to create bully-free learning environments”?

Did PFHS fall down on its responsibility to create this bully-free learning environment?


And apparently bullying of special needs kids still gets the thumbs-up from LCPS, because they are not high enough on the Victim Totem Pole. I still remember a child with seizures who wore a helmet at our child’s school was being referred to as “Crash Test Dummy” by some of the kids…and the teachers didn’t care one bit.


Loudoun County schools have bullying policies and these apply to all students. It happens to all kids (I’m talking to you helicopter Moms.) Stop exploiting these children to justify your perception of society and agendas!


Kids are cruel and thoughtless and will always find some reason for bullying.

When I was in school you could get bullied if you were too short, too tall, fat, poor, had a funny name, red hair, etc.

How about a blanket no-bullying rule?  I don’t see why any one particular group warrants special attention.


So is bullying based on reasons other than race, religion, ethnic origin, sex, okay?  What if the kid is just “weird” can students bully him/her?

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