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LGBTQ students join protests over new Fairfax County school superintendent

Critics say incoming official lacks experience leading large, diverse district

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Some Fairfax students and advocacy groups object to the new superintendent.

The Fairfax County, Va., School Board voted 9 to 3 on April 14 to approve the appointment of a new school superintendent for the county school system after more than 200 students, including members of an LGBTQ student group, held demonstrations against the appointment at several high schools earlier in the day.

After a months-long search process, the School Board selected Michelle Reid, the current superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Wash., a small city located within the Seattle metropolitan area, to replace current Fairfax School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who is stepping down effective June 30.

The student protesters have joined other community and advocacy groups, including the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP, in expressing concern that Reid’s experience in leading a relatively small school district with about 22,000 students is insufficient to head the Fairfax school system, which enrolls about 180,000 students who come from more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

School officials and members of the School Board who voted for Reid’s appointment said they were impressed with the knowledge, understanding, and staunch support Reid expressed for policies embracing and supporting a racially diverse school system such as Fairfax County Public Schools.

Reid, a former school principal who holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership, expressed strong support for the needs of LGBTQ and other minority students during her interview process, according to gay Fairfax School Board member Karl Frisch, who voted in favor of Reid’s appointment.

“Throughout all of our interviews with her, Dr. Reid routinely spoke – unprompted – of the ways she addressed the equity needs of her study body – LGBTQIA students, Muslim students, students of color, English language learners, students with special needs, and more,” Frisch said during the April 14 School Board meeting.

“Her commitment to equity and inclusion was a thread woven through her answers, her accomplishments as a superintendent, and her commitments to this Board,” Frisch said. 

Information on the Northshore School District website shows that the district adopted a strongly worded nondiscrimination policy protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students in 2017 during Reid’s tenure as superintendent. Fairfax County Public Schools adopted a similar policy on gender identity nondiscrimination in 2021.

The school system in previous years adopted polices banning discrimination against students, teachers, and other employees based on sexual orientation, which Reid strongly upheld, according to her supporters.

Although the Northshore School District adopted a strongly worded policy banning bullying and harassment of all students, including LGBTQ students, in 2011, new guidelines for updating and enforcing the anti-bullying policies were updated in 2020 under Reid, who began her tenure as Northshore superintendent in 2016.

Aaryan Rawal, a spokesperson for Pride Liberation Project, the LGBTQ student group that helped organize the student protests over the Reid appointment, told the Washington Blade one day before the protests that the Pride group was not aware of any actions taken by Reid against the LGBTQ students, but the group was unaware at that time of any actions she may have taken in support of LGBTQ equality.

Rawal pointed to a letter signed by 375 students sent last week to School Board members and a consulting firm that Fairfax school officials retained to organize a search for the new superintendent explaining the students’ objections to the approval of Reid as superintendent.

“Unfortunately, the voices of the student body were not heard during this search process,” the letter says. It says that while school officials held a 15-day community outreach period that included an 11-member student “stakeholder group,” the group was not representative of the full student body.

In a separate statement, the NAACP said it favored the hiring of another finalist candidate for the Fairfax school superintendent’s job, a Black woman educator and Omaha, Neb., Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan, who withdrew from contention for the job on April 9 without giving a reason, according to reports by the Washington Post.  

“The issue we all agree on is that Fairfax County Public Schools needs a superintendent who has commensurate experience in leading organizations of this size, diversity, complexity, and that the Superintendent of Northshore School District isn’t the right fit,” a joint statement released by the NAACP and other groups opposing Reid’s appointment, including Pride Liberation Project, says.

School Board members who supported Reid said she stood out from the pool of 72 applicants, among other things, because of her approach to equity and inclusion, according to FFX Now, the online Fairfax local news site. “Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” FFX Now quoted School Board Vice Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer as saying.

“We asked all of our applicants about how they would heal a divided community,” Frisch told fellow board members. “It says a lot about her character that she told us she would listen and that she would not presume to speak for others whose lived experience is different from her own,” Frisch said.

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Virginia

Youngkin backs abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy

Republican governor supports exceptions for incest, rape and protecting mother’s life

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade said he will seek to ban abortions in his state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“Virginians do want fewer abortions as opposed to more abortions,” Youngkin told the Washington Post. “I am not someone who is going to jump in and try to push us apart … There is a place we can come together.”

Youngkin, a Republican, took office in January.

His party controls the Virginia House of Delegates, but Democrats maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dobbs, giving power back to the states to make decisions on abortion,” said Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears in a statement. “The court has recognized that the 1973 decision was an example of judicial and federal overreach. The important question of abortion has now been returned to statehouses across the country, in order for them to make their own policy decisions, which is exactly what the founding fathers envision when they wrote the 10th amendment to the Constitution.” 

“I applaud the court for recognizing this wrong and having the courage to correct it. I look forward to working with the governor and the General Assembly in the next legislative session on legislation that respects life,” she added.

Abortion is currently legal in Virginia during the first and second trimesters.

Youngkin on Friday said he supports abortion exemptions in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is at risk.

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Virginia

Youngkin hosts Pride Month reception

Equality Virginia dismissed ‘performative’ event

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday hosted a Pride Month reception that took place in the Capitol Rotunda in Richmond.

The governor’s office invited more than 100 people to the reception, but Virginia Pride and other LGBTQ rights groups boycotted it. The reception, which Youngkin’s public schedule noted, was closed to the press.

“Equality Virginia is disappointed in Gov. Youngkin’s performative attempt to celebrate Virginia’s diverse LGBTQ+ community by hosting a Pride event,” said Equality Virginia Advocates Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in a statement. “His cherry-picking of invitees sends a message that he is unwilling to listen to the LGBTQ+ organizations and community members who have worked tirelessly for decades to make our commonwealth inclusive and welcoming for all.”

Youngkin took office in January after he defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the general election. Republicans last November also regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, but Democrats maintained their 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate.

Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, is the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction. Youngkin, who is the former CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, in April signed into law a bill that requires school boards to notify parents about “sexually explicit materials” in the classroom.

Youngkin has expressed his opposition to marriage equality, but said during the campaign that it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and would “support that” as governor. The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named the Carlyle Group as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

“The governor is committed to leading on behalf of all Virginians,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Thursday in a statement to the Washington Blade. “We are one Virginia and events like this help strengthen our communities and the spirit of Virginia.”

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Virginia

Lovettsville Town Council rejects Pride month proclamation

Mayor among those who criticized the vote

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(Bigstock photo)

The Lovettsville, Va., Town Council is drawing criticism from community groups after denying passage of a proclamation last Thursday that would have recognized June as Pride month.

After a motion was made by Councilwoman Renee Edmonston to take up the proclamation submitted to the Council by members of the public, the motion was denied both discussion and a vote after failing to receive support from a second member.

In her closing statement, Edmonston explained why she believed collaborating with community members and sponsoring the motion were necessary.

“The LGBTQ+ community along with everyone in our great town should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, violence and hatred based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation,” Edmonston said.

Some Council members offered their rationale behind declining to move the proclamation forward, a measure they also rejected in 2021.

“I don’t believe that seconding or making a proclamation of a statement that is not signifying an event of one of our organizations, our community member service — and that’s what we discussed last year — is in the vein of what was proposed,” Vice Mayor Christopher Hornbaker said.

But for some Council members and members of the public present at the meeting, such arguments weren’t sufficient.

Lovettsville Mayor Nathaniel Fontaine, a non-voting Council member, expressed disagreement with the body’s decision following the proclamation’s failure to advance.

“That was a proclamation that was celebratory of and getting recognition to a portion of our populace here,” Fontaine said. “I don’t understand why we could not even get a second to even have that discussion here this evening.”

Against a national background of anti-LGBTQ legislation and pushes to restrict conversations pertaining to the community, local advocates are similarly denouncing the Council’s decision.

Equality Loudoun, a local LGBTQ support and advocacy organization operating in Loudoun County where Lovettsville is located, is one group pushing back.

Cris Candace Tuck, president of Equality Loudoun’s board of directors, commented on the decision on behalf of the organization.

“Our community faces constant harassment, abuse and violence,” Tuck said. “These efforts lead to both children and adults feeling afraid, feeling lost, and feeling like they don’t belong in their own community.”

Current data shows the true impact to which Tuck alluded.

Statistics from a survey the Trevor Project, conducted earlier this year suggested consistently lower rates of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth who perceived their communities as more accepting of their identity.

Tuck made mention of Lovettsville’s own history with such when explaining how the proclamation could have broad effects on the community.

“This simple passage could have saved a child’s life like the Lovettsville teenager who died by suicide a few years ago because of a lack of acceptance,” Tuck said. “We implore the Council to correct this action and pass a proclamation so that all citizens feel like they belong in their own community.”

Tuck conveyed the absence of action to be a statement in and of itself.

“The silence in this case was deafening,” said Tuck.

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