Several years ago, Lovettsville’s Ayala Sherbow said she “made a commitment to [herself] and to [her] children (one of whom is gay and one of whom is transgender) to work toward tolerance and understanding.”
Ayala has been part of a coalition of parents and teachers and community leaders to make that difference in our school system where teachers must conceal who they are if LGBTQ persons and students who may be bullied for the same reason.
Ayala is the first to say that many people from Lovettsville and across the County have been pulling and pushing to favor tolerance and understanding.
At the outset of this push to recognize and protect LGBTQ teachers and students, Holly Patterson came before the School Board, waved her iPad, and said her 16-year-old transgender student tried to commit suicide, because the School Board did nothing to protect him from bullying.
The highly regarded “Journal of Adolescent Health,” after a survey of almost 32,000 students, concluded the failure to include LGBTQ persons in an anti-bullying school policy meant a 225% increase in the likelihood that they would attempt suicide.
Another study found that LGBTQ students hear derogatory slurs, on the average, 26 times a day. Some of this happens in front of school staff who stand by doing nothing. These children therefore can’t trust the staff to protect them.
Finally, last week the Loudoun County School Board approved a new policy – in a 5 to 4 vote – to protect LGBTQ persons as follows:
“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.”
Ayala said, “It’s a pretty complete victory, hard fought, and will have to be played out in policy. But it’s a big step.”
Ayala said, “When I started to work toward this outcome, I had a transgender daughter who was in school system. The principle that concerned us, however, remains. What this policy does is affirm the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ persons and guarantee to them the same rights and protections as everyone else. Without this policy, you could have been fired as a gay teacher. There have been plenty of Loudoun students who have testified over the years who had heard homophobic statements from faculty as well as students. Now, with this policy, you can hold people responsible and accountable for any inappropriate remarks.”
As for the objection to such a policy, Ayala said, “It’s mostly fear and misinformation.”
Among the most prominent elected official to object to this policy reform was the Delegate from the 33rd Delegate District, David LaRock.
In 2016, Mr. LaRock introduced legislation against the designation, transgender, in HB 431 and HB 397, insisting a person’s sexual designation was restricted to what a birth certificate said, and the only discrimination, including what a transgender person might suffer, could only be based on that same certificate.
Last year, Mr. LaRock said, “If you create a right for people on the basis of their sexual behaviors, then you are taking away the right of someone like me … to say, ‘I choose not to rent the place that I have to homosexuals…” Mr. LaRock added that he thought transgender people have a mental disorder and should not hold “role-model positions” in schools. Mr. LaRock fears “social contagion.”
This year, anticipating the School Board’s new policy, Mr. LaRock circulated a petition against any change to what was the current policy.
Ayala said, “Mr. LaRock has made no effort to hide the disdain he has for LGBTQ persons.”
On his FB page, Mr. LaRock objected that the new school policy recognizes “homosexual and transgender behavior as normal and healthy.”
Ayala said, “But it is normal and healthy for LGBTQ persons.”
Candidate Mavis Taintor, hoping to challenge Mr. LaRock in the General Election, has objected that he has “spoke[n] … gainst equity, dignity, and inclusion for all in Loudoun schools.”