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LGBT advocates continue push for protections in Loudoun schools

Potomac Falls senior Luc Teyssier, right, sits in the Loudoun County School Board gallery with the gay pride flag wrapped around his shoulders at a November School Board meeting. He and Charlotte McConnell, left, have addressed the School Board on adding LGBTQ non-discrimination policies for months. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
A year after the Loudoun County School Board voted against adding anti-discrimination protections for members of the LGBT community, advocates are continuing to lobby board members for reconsideration.

Supporters of adding protections have spoken out every month over the past year, letting the School Board know they still care and are watching. Several board members addressed the campaign at its meeting last week.

The School Board voted 5-4 against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to employee non-discrimination policy in January 2017. The addition was proposed by Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling).

Those who voted against adding protections felt they did not have authority under state law to add protected classes or felt current policies and practices were sufficient. Others voted against it because of moral and religious reasons, Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said.

“I really do not like to hear, and I know you don’t either, that our students indicated that they fear that our policy is inadequate to the sense of their safety,” Marshall said during a board meeting.

One story from a speaker last week particularly touched Marshall. Loudoun Valley High School and Monroe Tech senior Nadia Leiby shared with the School Board that she has been an open lesbian since the age of 15.

During last year’s election season, Leiby said a teacher told her that she didn’t agree with Leiby’s lifestyle. The student said this made her feel unwelcome and unsafe in a place she should feel protected.

“I kind of wonder if we had these two items added to our policy, would that be permissible, that statement by a teacher to a student?” Marshall said.

Several more LGBT-identifying students spoke to the need for protections. Eighth-grader Ynes Nevarez said that while School Board members may not agree with ignorant and hurtful statements, by not adding the protections, the action has made these statements harder to crack down on, and even permissible.

Leiby and Loudoun Valley alum Jaxon Lessler both said that LGBT protections would allow teachers to be themselves without fear and potentially serve as role models and mentors for LGBT youth. Should the board reconsider its decision, it would also send a message to LGBT students.

“As a gay student, I know I would have greatly benefited from being exposed to a teacher who was fearlessly themselves, out and proud,” Lessler said. “More than just a role model I could relate to, it would have showed me that my school thought it was ok for me to be who I am, supporting my teachers in that same way.”

Loudoun mother Susan Hayden agreed, saying it’s important for LGBT students and straight students alike to see LGBT teachers. Without exposing students to the full range of human diversity, students are less prepared to enter the real world, where LGBT professionals exist and thrive, she said.

“Without expanding our nondiscrimination policy, LCPS is limiting our ability to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers who happen to be LGBT. We’re simply not as competitive as we could be. This one action would speak volumes to the authenticity of our commitment,” Hayden said.

Additionally, students spoke to the fear felt in schools because sexual orientation and gender identity do not have the same protection as race, ethnicity, sex, disability and other identities. Luc Teyssier of Potomac Falls High School said that since addressing the board last month, he reached out to Gay Straight Alliances across the county. Everyone he spoke to was also afraid to speak before the School Board.

Teyssier said that not only were students afraid of the consequences of coming before the School Board, they were also afraid because of homophobia expressed by parents.

“You may not know who they are, but they are the students who you as a board have a duty to protect. They, and students all around this county, can’t be themselves at home, leaving school the only outlet for self expression,” Teyssier said. “The actions of this board to vote against an LGBTQ nondiscrimination clause demonstrates that, apparently, school is not an outlet for self expression either.”

Joy Maloney (Broad Run) and Sheridan expressed their support to the students, parents and staff members who keep coming out to speak about the issue. Sheridan hopes to see the day where LGBT-identifying individuals are protected under LCPS non-discrimination policy.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), who voted against adding protections last January, invited members of the movement to continue the dialogue. She said that while she voted against adding protections, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about gay and trans students and employees.

Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) echoed the sentiment.

“I, like Ms. Turgeon, feel that at times, people are identifying our position on this as a position against children. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll continue to support all of our students, and I expect our teachers and staff to do the same,” Morse said.

Charlotte McConnell, a leader with LGBT advocacy group Equality Loudoun, said she has reached out to Morse and hopes to speak with him and Turgeon about their positions and about the experience of LGBT-identifying staff and students.

Though Equality Loudoun has been on a campaign to raise awareness the past year, she said there is still a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the issue, and she hopes to further educate the community through continued speakers and a potential information booth at School Board meetings.

Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Public Schools both have sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in equal employment opportunity policies, as does the Loudoun County government.

“These policies can have an impact,” she said.


“Nobody has an issue with the second to last paragraph of Weintraub’s statement below.”

While I’m glad to hear that you don’t, this statement is untrue. It’s the fact that some people have that “issue” that leads to things like an adult telling an LGBT student that they shouldn’t exist or be honest about who they are.

As for your final assertion, I’m not suggesting that employees’ complaints about harassment have been ineffective in ending the harassment. I’m telling you that it has happened.

We all have known LGBT folks in the workplace (at least LG folks).  I have never seen anyone discriminate against them.

Now if this is an issue of folks pushing religion (Principal Brewer was directed to take training on separation of church and state), that is a bigger issue than just this proposed policy change here.

Nobody has an issue with the second to last paragraph of Weintraub’s statement below.  But that is not what such a policy leads to.  Based on Brian Damron’s conduct in Florida (which is likely not that different than his behavior in LCPS), he made inappropriate comments about the attractiveness of students.  I find that totally unacceptable for a teacher, straight or gay.  If this policy were passed, it would likely be used to claim any action taken against an employee such as Damron for such comments was discrimination based on status.  This makes officials fearful of taking action when it’s actually needed.

Let’s boil down what you are saying.  If a teacher who was supposedly discriminated against (harassment) filed an internal LCPS complaint that bubbled up through this administration under the current policies, you are suggesting that the Supt and deputies either cannot or will not take action to stop that harassment.  I just don’t find that credible.

As Dr. King continually reminded us, laws can’t change peoples’ hearts, but they can restrain the heartless. That’s what this policy is about, protecting people from being singled out for unequal and harmful treatment for a reason unrelated to their job, by other people who hold a personal prejudice against them.

The idea that there are no LGBT employees who fear retribution for not hiding who they are is false. I personally know several who are either afraid to speak up - precisely because they are unprotected - or who have chosen to leave their job due to harassment and threats for which there was no consequence. There are ways to end a person’s employment other than by simply firing them.

When a gay or transgender student hears from an adult authority figure in our schools that the adult doesn’t “agree with your lifestyle,” what that adult has actually communicated is “I don’t agree with the fact that you exist.” While you can disagree with a specific belief and have every right to say so, you cannot “disagree with” a core characteristic of a person such as religion, race, gender, or orientation. That is not an acceptable thing to say to anyone in a civil society, let alone by an adult to a child over whom they have power. It’s unfortunate that this needs to be spelled out.

Some of the comments here betray their author’s unfamiliarity with what it actually means to be “out and proud.” What that looks like for gay or trans people is exactly the same as what it looks like for non-gay, non-trans people: Performing your job without worrying that someone might be able to guess the gender of your spouse or pry into your medical history and make trouble for you, and being able to speak honestly and appropriately with a student who seeks out your guidance. That’s it.

Despite the personal risk, people have courageously spoken to the School Board month after month reporting a specific problem, and that the problem is not addressed by anodyne statements about caring for “all students and employees.” The fact that the speakers have been telling you this month after month is evidence enough that their lived experience excludes them from this “all.”

What would possess a teacher to say she that she didn’t agree with Leiby’s lifestyle? Is the next student going to hear that they don’t agree with their religion or political views? There are LGBT teachers in Loudoun, but it is not their or any teachers job to bring their views and place them on the students. The students are there to learn, the teachers to teach. With older students discussions should be held when the occasion calls for it on any controversial subject, but a teacher should stay neutral as not to influence the thinking of a child.

Nobody has issues with a teacher of either orientation bringing a spouse to a function.  That’s not exactly what the speakers are talking about. (BTW, I don’t think I have ever met a teacher’s spouse despite seeing them at all kinds of functions)

If a teacher were fired in this day and age, and specifically at LCPS, for bringing a same-sex spouse to a function you would hear an uproar like nothing we’ve ever seen before.  If the board allowed such a firing, they would be purged.  That is simply not a credible possibility.

One of the activists talked about a relatively small number of students at one of the high schools in the LGBT community.  They all knew each other. It was clear their sexual orientation represented a large part of their personal identity.  It was quite clear they strove to be accepted including their lifestyle.  That is not something one can legislate.  They appear to want a statement such as “I disagree with your lifestyle” to be treated as hate speech and punished accordingly.  That is completely inappropriate just as a religious student should be protected from telling promiscuous students he/she disagrees with their lifestyle.

Suppose that you became omniscient and discovered there was no actual discrimination against teachers based on gender identity. (or against students based on actionable conduct such as bullying)  Would you still feel this policy needs to be enacted?  If not, what leads you to believe there is discrimination?

We all know fired employees who file EEOC complaints check every box.  We also know that employers think twice about firing someone, regardless of performance, who may be able to check some of those boxes despite the merits.  That is the downside of enacting such a policy.  And it may be one reason Brewer didn’t take action against Damron for so long.

“I don’t want the sexual preference of my kids’ teachers to be so obvious that students notice it, either way.” You never want a student to meet their teacher’s spouse?

Acceptance here includes by their government. The same government that protects against racial mistreatment ought to do as much for mistreatment based on orientation. That “celebration” claim so many use overstates what people seeking equal protection are asking for.

As to complaints: it’s hard to complain about mistreatment for which you have no right to relief. Speakers at the hearings have said there are problems. Without a remedy, what else would you expect?

Stevens Miller, these activists are speaking out very loudly.  Good for them.

However, if you listen to what they are saying, it departs from the publicly stated goal.

Several of the speakers at LCSB meetings talked about being “accepted”.  No law or policy can make fellow students “accept” them.  There will always be some that don’t accept certain individuals based on their acts.  It’s as if they want the school board to punish any student or teacher who doesn’t celebrate their difference.

They also stated they wanted to see role models of homosexual teachers who were out and “proud”.  I don’t want the sexual preference of my kids’ teachers to be so obvious that students notice it, either way.  Their goal of “out and proud” teachers for both straight and gay students to experience is not a desirable goal in a school.  Which obviously leads to the question of whether a teacher who is conspicuous in displaying their sexual preferences can be removed for such a blatant display.  If this law is passed, it would be difficult to remove conspicuous displays by either type of teacher.

In theory, you could get to the point where you wanted to hire at least one gay counselor so kids could have somebody to discuss personal issues with.  Yet, with this policy passed, LCPS could not even target the hiring of a specifically gay counselor.

Nobody wants these kids to be bullied.  Current policies can protect the students.  Thus, it moves to “protecting” teachers.  Yet, nobody has cited a single example of a teacher being discriminated against because of their orientation.  The remaining goal of wanting loud gay teachers in the classroom should not be the basis for changing the policy.

I am not suggesting that LCPS is doing a great job protecting students.  In reviewing the research on their website, a recent student survey suggested that at least 25% of students there was not a single adult in their school system they could trust to discuss an issue such as bullying.  That suggests a massive failure.  It also reinforces the PISA results where LCPS students were in the bottom 5% in believing their teachers cared about their well-being.  Maybe less grandstanding and more investigation/hearings/oversight would help.

Not everyone is equal under the law, nor is that the goal of the law. The goal is equal protection under the law. That requires that we establish what differences may legally be used to justify workplace decisions.

For example, if one is not physically strong enough to tip a garbage can into the scoop on a truck, it is legitimate to deny that person a job as a garbage collector in favor of a different person who is strong enough to do it. It is not legitimate to deny that job to a woman on the basis that she is a woman, however. But, without the law that says gender is not an allowed basis for making hiring and firing decisions, there used to be a lot of people who refused to hire women simply because they were women. A woman, or a man, who cannot do a job, however, can still legally be denied that job.

So, the purpose of the law is to establish which reasons for hiring and firing are legal and which reasons are not. As noble as a phrase like “everyone is equal under the law” might sound, it takes a few more words than that to create practical policies.

Identity politics is being used to divide us not unite us. There is no need for protected classes when everyone is equal under the Law.

LGBT? Liberty, Guns, Bible Trump?

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