Politics

School Board Expands Protection For Transgender Students

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Fairfax County Meeting.Fairfax County Meeting.

The Fairfax County School Board in Virginia voted to expand protections for transgender students and staff members on May 7. The 10-to-1 decision, with one abstention, was hotly contested by both parents and advocates.

At one point, the school board threatened to make the audience leave. “It was a crucible,” said Josh Israel, a ThinkProgress writer who was set to address the board. “The anger in the room was palpable and first boiled over when Andrea Lafferty, head of the Traditional Values Coalition and one of the leaders against this policy, started screaming that more of the parents present should be allowed to voice their opposition.” One person claimed women would be raped as a result of the policy change and it would be the school board’s fault.

“Gender identity” was added to the school board’s nondiscrimination policy after Virginia’s Democratic Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued an opinion giving school boards the chance to expand protections to transgender people. In November, the school board voted to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy after the legality of same-sex marriage in Virginia was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“The decision by the Fairfax County School Board to add ‘gender identity’ to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect,” board chair Tammy Derenak Kaufax said.

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School board member Elizabeth Schultz, the only person who voted against the change, said she wanted to protect students and staff members. “It is about the right of 99.7 percent of all students, all teachers and all employees to retain their right to privacy, safety and dignity,” she said. “Let’s change the policy to two words: 'Don’t discriminate.'"

School Board member Patty Reed abstained from the vote and claimed it seemed hasty. She said it took “10 years of study to institute later high school start times.”

The motion was sponsored by board member Ryan McElveen, who said it was a civil rights issue. He added the vote was about showing “that we value all employees and students for who they are.”

The policy won’t immediately change bathroom or locker room rules and individuals seeking accommodations would be considered on a case-by-case basis. Kaufax said in a statement a consultant would be hired to help the schools with “developing appropriate regulations that protect the rights of all students and comply with state and federal law.”

Sources: ThinkProgress, Washington Post

Image: InsideNova via ThinkProgress