Equality Virginia Applauds Fairfax County School Board for Voting to Update Non-Discrimination Policy

All Students and Employees Must Be Given Equal Opportunity to Succeed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 7, 2015 Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected]; 804.643.4816 FAIRFAX – Equality Virginia applauds Fairfax County School Board Members for voting on Thursday to update Fairfax County Public Schools’ non-discrimination policy to include gender identity.   The policy protects transgender students and employees in Fairfax County Public Schools from facing discrimination. With this vote, Fairfax County is the first school district in Virginia to join hundreds of cities, counties, and states that are leading the nation forward. “Equality Virginia is pleased that the board took into consideration the opinion of both community members and experts, and voted to do the right thing,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. Like any other student, those who are transgender simply want to be accepted for who they are. Being stigmatized should not be part of any child’s growing up, and this updated policy ensures that Fairfax Public Schools will create an atmosphere of acceptance and respect.” Parrish was present at the school board meeting, where he was joined by Fairfax residents wearing purple in support of the policy update. The update was proposed by Fairfax County School Board Member Ryan McElveen and was supported by 10 of 12 board members. “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.” In addition to ensuring that students will no longer be discriminated against based on gender identity, the updated policy also protects transgender public school teachers and employees. “Non-discrimination policies to protect employees are nothing new,” said Parrish. “The majority of Fortune 500 companies protect their gay and transgender employees from discrimination because they know it makes good business sense. The policy update will contribute to Fairfax County’s ability to attract the most qualified employees, and that’s something that will benefit all Fairfax County residents.” As part of its safe schools work, Equality Virginia has been working with school boards to implement bullying policies enumerated with sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2012, less than 2 percent of Virginia’s public school students attended a school with such a policy. Today, more than 20 percent of Virginia’s public school students are protected. The updated policy in Fairfax is another step to make sure that LGBT students feel safe at school, and is the first in Virginia that protects transgender teachers and other school employees. Earlier this year, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion stating that school boards in Virginia have the authority to expand their employment anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Herring’s opinion overruled a 2002 opinion that said school boards had no authority to enact employment non-discrimination policies. “It is fantastic to see Fairfax County take the lead in Virginia, and we applaud the board members for proactively taking a stand against harmful discrimination,” said Parrish. “It is our hope that other school districts throughout the commonwealth will follow in Fairfax County's footsteps.”   ### Equality Virginia is a statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians.  Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities.  More information is online at EqualityVirginia.org.  Connect on Facebook.com/EqualityVA or Twitter @EqualityVA.