The Fairfax County School Board voted 10-2 on June 25 to amend the school system’s Family Life Education Curriculum to add lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity that stress support for diversity and respect for LGBT students.
The vote followed a sometimes contentious meeting in which angry opponents of the proposal, including the president of the anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition, denounced it as a radical attempt to normalize homosexuality and “transgenderism.”
Some of the opponents called for the defeat of the 10 board members supporting the curriculum changes in November, when all 12 members of the school board are up for re-election.
“It speaks volumes about the commitment our school board’s 10 Democratic-endorsed members who recognized the importance of affirming LGBT kids and families,” said Northern Virginia gay activist Joshua Israel.
Israel noted that in drafting the curriculum changes a school board committee considered the findings of a recent youth survey that showed lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth in Fairfax County have much higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts compared to the general youth population.
School Board Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax pointed out during the board’s debate over the proposal that parents will have the option to “opt” their child out of any of the lessons to which they object.
Nine of the 15 citizens who spoke either in person or on video prior to the vote expressed opposition to the curriculum changes while six expressed support.
Among those speaking against the proposal was Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, a national group founded by her father, the Rev. Louis Sheldon. Many of the more than 200 members of the audience shouted “no” when Lafferty asked whether parents support what she called an ill-conceived proposal to teach kids about homosexuality and “transgenderism.”
Lafferty and other opponents said they were especially concerned that the curriculum changes call for beginning the teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades 7 and 8. Supporters of the changes have said the curriculum additions have been carefully vetted by experts and are “age-appropriate.”
“The recommendations strive to promote an environment free of bias and discrimination,” said James Parrish, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Virginia.
“This shouldn’t be controversial,” Parrish said. “The proposed curriculum will benefit all students, promote understanding and knowledge, and make Fairfax County Schools a safer and more welcoming place for everybody.”
Fairfax gay rights advocate Charles Keener noted that one of the two school board members who voted against the curriculum changes, Patty Reed, is being challenged in the November election by an LGBT supportive teacher, Dalia Palchik.
“We need to support a school board rep that will protect and value every kid instead of seeking to impede progress toward justice and inclusion,” Keener said.
The vote by the Fairfax School Board to approve the LGBT-supportive changes in the Family Life Education Curriculum came less than two months after the board voted on May 7 to expand the school system’s non-discrimination policy to include protections for transgender students and employees.