The leader of a conservative lobbying group has sued a Virginia school board, challenging the board’s move to add protections for transgender students and staff to its nondiscrimination policies.
Andrea Lafferty, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, and an unnamed high school student filed the suit in Fairfax County Circuit Court last week, arguing that the county school board overstepped its bounds when it changed the policy to bar discrimination of students and staff based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. The suit asks for an injunction to stop the board from implementing the policy.
“We have warned for months that such changes were not only jeopardizing our children but in direct contravention of long-standing Virginia statute,” Lafferty, who previously battled the board’s efforts to add protections for transgender students and staff, said in a statement.
The lawsuit argues that the Virginia General Assembly has never given school boards the authority to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Even though Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) issued an opinion in March allowing school boards to add those categories, Lafferty’s lawyers disagreed with his reasoning, saying that the General Assembly never authorized the change.
“The Virginia legislature has already chosen a specific set of categories upon which to outlaw discrimination,” said Horatio Mihet, an attorney with the public interest law firm Liberty Counsel, which is representing Lafferty and the unnamed student. “Gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are not among those specific categories.”
Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Herring, said the attorney general stands by his opinion and believes “strongly for the right of every Virginian to live, learn and work without fear of discrimination.”
The school district is in the midst of drawing up regulations to accompany the policies. In a statement, school board chair Pat Hynes (Hunter Mills) said that the district had yet to be served with the suit.
“The School Board and FCPS administration will continue to ensure that all of our students and employees are treated with dignity, respect and equality,” Hynes wrote.
The school board voted in November of 2014 to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. In May, in the face of vocal opposition from Lafferty and other parents, the board voted to add “gender identity” to its nondiscrimination policy. Parents said they worried the new policy would lead to troubling bathroom and locker-room situations.
The following month, board members voted to add topics about gender issues to its Family Life Education curriculum, another change that riled some parents in the community.
In the suit, the unnamed high school student, called “Jack Doe,” described being “terrified of the thought of having to share intimate spaces with students who have the physical features of a girl, seeing such conduct as an invasion of privacy.” The suit said the student is also “distressed” because the school board has not defined “gender identity” or “gender expression,” and worries that he could be disciplined for “unknowingly violating the ambiguous code of conduct.”
The student “cannot regard school as a safe place where he can learn what he needs to be a productive and well-educated adult without fear of harassment, being charged with harassment and having his speech and conduct chilled by the fear of reprisals or of discipline,” his attorneys wrote.
Robert Rigby, a Latin teacher at West Potomac High who is the faculty adviser of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said the protections in the policy are an important step for schools.
Transgender students at West Potomac High report being regularly harassed, Rigby said.
“Transgender teens are not out to fight people or terrify people or confront people or flaunt anything,” Rigby said.