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Student protesters in Fairfax County call for inclusivity

FCPS youth activists rally, speak to urge implementation of coed Family Life Education classes

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Student activist Aarayn Rawal speaks to a crowd of supporters outside of Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va. on Thursday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Student activists and community supporters of the Pride Liberation Project rallied outside of Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., on Thursday ahead of a Fairfax County School Board meeting.

A group of about 50 students, teachers, and supporters gathered on the sidewalk along Glebe Road holding signs and chanting to call for the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to adopt a gender neutral or “coed” Family Life Education (FLE) program for certain subjects in the curriculum. FLE is the sex education program in Fairfax County.

The activists assert that a coed FLE program would be beneficial to students, particularly for transgender and nonbinary students. Activists agreed with the recommendations of the FLE Curriculum Advisory Committee.

The Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC) is comprised of members of the school board, representatives from the student body, representatives from the community and representatives from teachers and administrators in FCPS. FLECAC recommended that certain lessons be coed in its 2021-2022 Recommendations to the School Board report.

However, the Fairfax County School Board opted to postpone a vote on whether to introduce gender neutral FLE classes for certain subjects along with other changes to the curriculum proposed by the advisory committee at a work session in May.

“FLECAC recommended that we create gender neutral FLE unanimously,” Aarayn Rawal, a student activist with the Pride Liberation Project told the crowd. “But this school board will not choose to ratify that. What they chose to do instead is to kick the can down the road because they are too scared of queer children having rights in our school system.”

“We’re trying to ensure that all people are represented in the way they want to be seen in schools: one of the places they spend time the most,” said a student who identified herself as Natasha. “I think that we need coed FLE in order to promote equality and more importantly, equity among all students regardless of their gender, their sexual orientation, their race.”

“Today we’re fighting for the right for people to have bodily autonomy to make their own decisions about their own body,” the student organizer of the protest Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter told the Blade. “But specifically with the school board we’re fighting so that they adopt the FLE reforms that FLECAC has suggested, especially the one to adopt coed FLE into the curriculum. That is, that there is no gender separation within the classes. This is a step toward inclusivity for transgender and nonbinary students but moreover, if this was accepted, it would show that the board is willing to take a step further and — possibly in the future — broaden the FLE curriculum to include queer students. “

Members of the Pride Liberation Project and supporters gather on the sidewalk along Glebe Road in front of Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va. on Thursday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A smaller group of conservative adult demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk outside of the school board meeting. The group stood in front of a “Parents for Youngkin” yard sign and had a public address system with songs such as David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo” blaring out to the assembled crowds: many in the opposing crowd down the sidewalk being underage students. The group held aloft signs calling for the resignation of members of the Fairfax County School Board including gay member Karl Frisch.

Protesters picket along Gallows Road in Falls Church, Va. on Thursday against ‘Gender Theory’ and ‘Critical Race Theory.’ (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following the protest outside, members of the Pride Liberation Project, Fairfax NAACP and FCPS Pride as well as adversaries from right-wing groups such as Mama Grizzly entered the auditorium of Luther Jackson Middle School to attend the Fairfax County School Board meeting.

Several speakers at the community participation segment of the meeting spoke in favor of gender neutral Family Life Education.

“The fact remains, queer students are struggling,” rising FCPS senior Inaayah Kahn addressed the board. “We have been struggling. We are fighting for our right to be heard, to be represented, to be able to feel safe. Almost constantly, I have friends who get called slurs regularly, I have friends who keep forgiving casual homophobia because the person just ‘didn’t know better.’ I shouldn’t have to say this, but this shouldn’t be happening.”

“I have sat through countless FLE classes throughout my years in FCPS,” Kahn continued. “We started out by being divided by gender: girls in one room, boys in the other, and there was a distinct lack of discussion of trans, nonbinary, and queer identities.”

“Queer students are not seeing themselves represented in our curriculums,” said Kahn. “Queer students are feeling dysphoric in these classrooms. And queer students need gender neutral FLE desperately.”

“Your FLECAC committee has recommended coed FLE classes, yet they still have not been established,” admonished Kahn. “Trans and non-binary students are living in a world that keeps growing more and more hostile toward their identities. And currently, the board is not helping them.”

FCPS student and organizer of the Pride Liberation Project Vizcardo-Lichter was recognized to speak at the podium. “If you’ve heard of the Pride Liberation Project, you’ve probably heard this statistic about a million times,” Vizcardo-Lichter said. “Fifty percent of students in FCPS are depressed. And, at this point, you are probably tired of hearing it but I’m here to tell you why it is essential that you don’t ignore this.”

Vixcardo-Lichter and other speakers referred to the Fairfax County government survey that found 50 percent of self-identified LGBTQ youth in Fairfax County Public Schools from the Fall semester of 2019 experienced depressive symptoms compared to 26 percent of their heterosexual classmates. Further, the survey found that 32 percent of self-reported LGBTQ students had contemplated suicide compared to 11 percent of their heterosexual peers.

“You have a choice: to continue to exclude queer students from their own FLE classes and further the statistic, or you can take a step toward inclusivity by adopting the reforms suggested by FLECAC,” concluded Vizcardo-Lichter.

“If you implemented the reforms suggested by FLECAC, you’ll be taking a small but meaningful step toward accepting queer students,” rising senior Cathy Le said, addressing the board. “If not, the status quo of hate and fear directed toward the queer community will never change. I hope that the decision to do what’s right is unanimous.”

Members of the Pride Liberation Project hold signs supporting LGBTQ youth at the Fairfax County School Board meeting on Thursday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Not all speakers during the community participation segment of the school board meeting were in support of FLE, coed or otherwise.

Kathleen Mallard, wearing a ‘Mama Grizzly’ T-shirt, denounced the Family Life Education program for a number of unsubstantiated claims when she spoke before the school board.

“I was very concerned when my daughter in 12th grade, no 7th grade, was going to learn about beastiality,” Mallard said at the podium. “You know, I didn’t know. Fisting. Whatever. I didn’t know what that was. So anyway, I joined this group.”

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Virginia

Va. school district refuses grant from LGBTQ group

Board members opposed It Gets Better Project money

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E.C. Glass High School (Facebook photo)

At its regular board meeting last week, the Lynchburg City School Board voted 7-2 against accepting a grant from the It Gets Better Project. The Lynchburg News and Advance reported that the $10,000 grant was earmarked to develop a safe-space or “quiet room.”

The E.C. Glass High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club was awarded the grant back in August as part of the nonprofit’s “50 States 50 Grants 5,000 Voices” program, an “initiative to fund projects that support and uplift LGBTQ+ identity in schools across the U.S. and Canada.”

In an interview with WSET, Brittany Harris, co-president of the GSA Club, E.C. Glass was the first school in Virginia to be awarded the money from the grant.

“We worked so hard to get this,” Harris said. “We submitted videos and testimonials from our students and how they have conquered so much; it was so surreal to be awarded the grant.”

During the Oct. 24 school board work session meeting, Board Chair Atul Gupta and Lynchburg City Schools Supt. Crystal Edwards told E.C. Glass principal Daniel Rule to provide more information on it and answer questions about the grant. This was also requested of the student GSA officers.

“Many schools within LCS already have such rooms and they have been shown to promote student self-regulation and are correlated to better student outcomes,” Rule told the board at that meeting.

“The students selected this project due to the high rate of bullying that the LGBTQIA+ community experiences, but the entire school would be welcomed and encouraged to use the room. The budget for the room includes flexible seating, interactive sensory devices, non-intrusive lighting and white noise machines,” Rule added.

During the Nov. 14 meeting the Lynchburg News and Advance reported that five E.C. Glass students and GSA club members told the board why they applied for the grant and why they picked the projects it’s intended to fund.

“Many students, including myself, struggle with mental health. School can be overwhelming just by itself, but a lot has happened in the last three or four years, what with the uncertainty of COVID along with the many lockdowns and how those have affected students,” junior Lindley Crosby said.

“Students have skipped school because they don’t feel safe or they don’t feel supported and these classrooms can be disruptive and chaotic and sometimes it can be too much. We want to provide this safe room so they have somewhere to go and breathe for a second.”

There were points that the meeting became contentious, a grandparent and guardian of an E.C. Glass student, Greg Barry, spoke in opposition to the grant.

“Let me be very clear, the LBGTQ agenda in schools is about indoctrination and grooming our children into an evil and wicked lifestyle, all while circumventing the rights and responsibilities of parents,” he said.

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Virginia

TikTok video of Va. father at school board meeting goes viral

Cody Conner’s child is transgender

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Cody Conner, a father of three kids, gave a passionate speech to the Virginia Beach City Public Schools' board meeting supporting LGBTQ kids. (Photo courtesy of Cody Conner's Facebook page)

Cody Conner, a father of three kids, gave a passionate speech supporting LGBTQ kids during the Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ board meeting last month that was uploaded as a TikTok video that has since gone viral. 

Conner excoriated the board for considering implementation of Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s anti-transgender school policies. 

“You are never going to find a right way to do the wrong thing and Gov. Youngkin’s policies are wrong,” Conner told the board.

“Never in history have the good guys been the segregationist group pushing to legislate identity,” he said. “Never in history have the good guys been closely connected with and supported by hate groups like the Proud Boys. And the good guys don’t put Hitler quotes for inspiration on the front of their newsletters. News flash: They’re the bad guys. They’re the bad guys supporting bad policy. And if you support the same bad policy, guess what? You’re one of the bad guys too.”

“When you look around and see only the wrong people supporting what you’re doing, you’re doing the wrong thing. Now you’ve heard some speakers come up here and say how they love these kids but won’t accept them. I’m here to tell you that if your love makes somebody not want to be alive, it’s not love. That’s not love.

Some of you are going to get up here and say ‘it’s the law.’ Well, I remind you that slavery and segregation used to be the law here in Virginia.

I just knew I couldn’t standby and do nothing, just let it happen and hope everything worked out ok and I also wanted to make sure my kid knew that I would stand up for them,” Conner explains as he begins to tear up. “My big job as a parent is not to tell my children who they are, it’s not to make the decisions for them, it’s not to live their life or decide what their life is going to be, but to show them the best way I know how to walk through this world.”

According to PRIDE journalist Ariel Messman-Rucker, Conner moved his family to Virginia Beach right before Youngkin’s policies passed and he worries about the future of his 13-year-old transgender daughter who is now in the 8th grade. The family moved from rural Virginia to Virginia Beach so that their kid, who came out as trans a year ago, would be in a school system that would be supportive, but that all changed because of Youngkin.

The 42-year-old father told PRIDE he’s a quiet person and might not have made the choice to speak up if not for his kids. 

Virginia’s Department of Education at the direction of the governor has set out “model policies” for public schools that require students to use the bathroom and sports team that matches their sex at birth. 

The policies require written instruction from parents for a student to use names or gender pronouns that differ from the official record, meaning that teacher can deadname students — refer to them by their prior name — if paperwork isn’t filled out by the parents and it requires the school to inform parents if a student is questioning their identity, according to WVEC.

LGBTQ rights activists, including Equality Virginia, have stated these policies will be especially detrimental to LGBTQ students who come from conservative non-affirming homes.

The Virginia Beach School Board in a 9-1 vote approved an updated policy for trans and nonbinary students.

The new policy will require teachers to use pronouns and names that are on official record with exceptions for nicknames commonly associated with the student’s legal name. If a student requests anything else, teachers will be required to report it to the parents. Students must also use bathrooms and participate in sports teams that correspond to their assigned sex. 

@beezay22 #CapCut #virginia #virginiabeach #schoolboard #schoolboardmeetings #lgbtqiaplus #transrightsarehumanrights #protecttranskids #stoptransgenocide #fyp ♬ original sound – BeezayDad

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Va. says Loudoun County photographer can refuse to shoot same sex weddings

Bob Updegrove challenged 2020 nondiscrimination law

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(Bigstock photo)

Virginia last week said a Loudoun County photographer who filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s nondiscrimination law can refuse to photograph same-sex weddings.

Bob Updegrove in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Values Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group who represents Updegrove, on its website said the law that took effect on July 1, 2020, “forces him to use his artistic talents to photograph same-sex weddings if he photographs weddings between one man and one woman.” The Alliance Defending Freedom further notes the Virginia Values Act “violates foundational rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses.”

A Nov. 3 filing with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond notes the state will not “force” Updegrove “to offer or provide photography celebrating same-sex weddings.” It also refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 303 Creative ruling in favor of Lorie Smith, a Colorado graphic artist who refused to make wedding websites for same-sex couples, even though the state’s nondiscrimination law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom represented Smith in her case.

Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares was among the defendants named in his Nov. 3 filing with the 4th Circuit.

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