Two state Republican delegates spoke out against a proposal in Fairfax County to include transgender students and staff in the school system’s non-discrimination policy.
The proposal, submitted by school board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), comes after Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) issued an opinion in March granting local school boards the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination policies.
The Fairfax board voted 11 to 1 last fall to add protections for sexual orientation, and the board is scheduled to vote next month on a measure to expand coverage to transgender students and staff for the first time.
At a school board meeting Thursday night, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) and Del. David A. LaRock (R), neither of whom represent Fairfax residents, spoke against the proposal, citing case law that they said shows the school board does not have the authority to create protected classes.
“Seven attorney generals from 1982 to 2010 in eight opinions all concluded that the General Assembly is the only body with authority to establish or change public policy to define classes of individuals of forbidden discrimination,” said Marshall, whose district includes Prince William County and the city of Manassas Park.
LaRock, whose district includes parts of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties, urged the school board to consult with parents before making any policy changes.
McElveen said last month that the measure would close a gap in protections already offered to students and staff.
“It’s critical for Fairfax County, as the largest school division in the state, to make the statement that we unequivocally protect, value and embrace all of our students and employees for who they are,” McElveen said. “Statistics show that half of all transgender teens will attempt suicide by the time they turn 20, and it’s time that we bring this issue to light.”
Andrea Lafferty, a Fairfax resident who serves as president of the Traditional Values Coalition, made strongly worded comments against the proposal, which she said involved “those struggling with self-hatred.”
“Children need and deserve a psychologically stable and emotionally secure environment in which to learn,” Lafferty said. “Your policy threatens that.”
Lafferty said she believed that the policy could endanger children.
“So you are going to put people with serious mental-health issues that are at a risk for suicide in our classrooms?” Lafferty asked. “What you’re going to have in class are she-males — people who are half-female and half-male. We ask that you protect our children. They deserve to be protected.”
Harris LaTeef, the student representative to the school board, said he supports the proposal, which could protect all students.
“Discriminating against any student minority threatens all student minorities and, indeed, all Fairfax County students,” LaTeef said in an interview. “Going through high school in the 21st century is difficult and stressful enough without being harassed, bullied or discriminated against because of who you are.”
Manny Solon, a Fairfax resident, also spoke in favor of the measure at Thursday’s meeting. As a student at the University of Texas, he said, he worked to help integrate classrooms and encountered similar opposition.
“Some of the same arguments that were used — that the world is going to end if we end the discrimination of blacks — are here today,” Solon said. “The world is not going to end.”