BRISTOW, Va. – Virginia’s Prince William County schools approved special protections for transgender students and staff at last Wednesday’s school board meeting, though it does automatically grant access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity.
“The Division shall not discriminate in employment nor in the provision of educational programs, services, and activities based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, veteran status, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law,” the district’s new Policy 060 reads.
The Prince William County board of education voted 5-3 to add gender identity to the list, joining numerous other school districts in the area with similar provisions, WUSA reports.
The transgender issue is a hot topic in Prince William County, where opponents to special protections flooded a school board meeting last September to denounce the idea. In the time since, supporters have fought back, most recently sending hundreds of LGBT advocates to a board meeting in Bristow to demand board members press forward with the change.
Gay rights groups, the ACLU, and transgender state General Assembly candidate Diaca Roem have led the charge for special transgender anti-discrimination protections, while state Del. Bob Marshall – the current incumbent running against Roem – the Traditional Values Coalition, and many parents concerned with student privacy oppose the measure.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, LGBT advocates waiving mini rainbow flags and toting signs that read “Stand up for LGBTQ rights!” squared off against parents with signs that read “No. The 99 percent have rights, too.”
At least one man who spoke out against the change was hauled out of the raucous meeting by a county sheriff’s deputy, The Washington Post reports.
“Over half the school districts in the commonwealth already have a policy like this,” school board chairman Ryan Sawyers said in approving the change. “This is, in my opinion, Prince William County catching up with the times.”
Board member Alyson Satterwhite voted against the change because “federal, state and local governments are not in agreement on nondiscrimination policies”
“How can we do this now?” she questioned. “I don’t know how you have community buy-in.”
The vote to include the transgender protections in the district’s nondiscrimination policy comes amid a heated national debate on how schools accommodate transgender students, who often want to use school facilities that correspond to their gender identity, rather than their actual gender.
“The Trump administration decided this year to pull back Obama-era guidance that directed public schools to allow students access to bathrooms that match their gender identity. Instead, federal officials said, such decisions should be left to local authorities,” the Post reports.
The Supreme Court also declined to hear a case involving Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was born a girl but sued his school district when officials blocked him using the boys restroom amid public backlash.
Also, state law does not identify sexual orientation or gender identity for special protections.
“Attorney General Mark Herring in a 2015 opinion said state law does not allow school boards to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination” policies, The Washington Blade reports.
“A bill that Marshall introduced last year that would have prevented municipalities from enacting nondiscrimination measures with sexual orientation and gender identity did not make it out of the Virginia House of Delegates General Laws Committee.”
That’s undoubtedly part of the reason Prince William County school board members did not specifically allow transgender students to use school facilities based on gender identity in the new policy.
The policy states the superintendent will “not change the current regulations and practices regarding bathroom and locker room use,” and vows to “uphold the fundamental right to privacy.”
The ACLU argues the new policy doesn’t go far enough, and issued a veiled threat to school officials who plan to follow the current policy on bathroom and locker room use.
“If the superintendent were to accept the board’s invitation and adopt any such restriction, the rule would violate the constitutional and statutory rights of Prince William students and employees who are transgender — rights the ACLU of Virginia continues to stand ready to defend,” the ACLU wrote in a prepared statement cited by the Blade.