The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal opportunity policy.
The motion, which passed by a 5-4 vote margin, will prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination among faculty, staff, and students in the school system. Loudoun County, which has the third largest school district in Virginia, joins school districts in D.C., Maryland and Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County, along with other areas of Virginia in covering sexual orientation and gender identity in its equal opportunity policy.
Two years ago, a similar motion for LGBT protections failed in Loudoun County on a 4-5 vote. Since then, a shift in the makeup of the school board has occurred, allowing for the protections to pass on Tuesday.
The vote took place at a public hearing in the school board’s auditorium. Hundreds of Loudoun County residents attended the hearing, and 80 people spoke at the event.
Charlotte McConnell and Amber Beichler were among the speakers.
A community organizer for Equality Loudoun, McConnell has been advocating schoolwide LGBT protections since Brenda Sheridan first proposed the policy in 2016. McConnell and other Equality Loudoun members have regularly attended school board meetings over the past three years to speak in favor of the policy.
Amber Beichler, another community organizer for Equality Loudoun and a former student in the Loudoun County Public Schools, worked at the school district as a substitute teacher from 2015 until 2017.
In 2016, she decided she wanted to apply for a full-time position in the school district. At the same time, she chose to be open about her gender identity and begin her transition.
Beichler’s colleagues in the Loudoun County Public Schools advised her to seek work elsewhere, citing a conservative and potentially hostile environment in the school district.
“Whenever I had brought it up with some people who worked in the county, I was dissuaded,” Beichler told the Washington Blade. “I was told that the school system is conservative and it would be difficult to be able to transition.”
Beichler took a job outside of education but felt disappointed.
“I grew up in a family of educators, all in Loudoun County,” she said. “Not being able to work under the same umbrella as the rest of my family was disheartening.”
Beichler hopes the new policy will begin to establish a more inclusive environment in Loudoun County Public Schools.
U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), whose district includes Loudoun County, tweeted her approval of last night’s vote in favor of the LGBT protections.
“To our LGBT students and staff — you are seen, you are supported, and you are now protected in our schools,” she wrote.
I am extremely proud of the majority of the @LCPSOfficial School Board who voted this evening to add LGBT protections in its nondiscrimation policy.
To our LGBT students and staff — you are seen, you are supported, and you are now protected in our schools.
— Jennifer Wexton (@JenniferWexton) February 27, 2019
State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman elected to the Virginia General Assembly, also voiced her support for the new policy.
“In Northern Virginia, we welcome you because of who you are, not despite it,” Danica tweeted
Thank you to the advocates and the 5-4 majority on the Loudoun County School Board who voted to make LCPS more inclusive by adding LGBTQ students & staff to the equal opportunity policy.
In Northern Virginia, we welcome you because of who you are, not despite it.#NoH8 #LoveWins
— Danica Roem (@pwcdanica) February 27, 2019
“It’s a shame it wasn’t unanimous,” McConnell told the Blade after the vote.
McConnell says her next steps include “working to replace those who voted no” and “educating [the county].”
“We need to make sure that we protect the LGBTQ staff and that we train everyone in the school on what is accepted and not accepted when we’re discussing these kinds of topics,” she said.