June 8, 2023

Letter to Bedford County School Board RE: Proposed Revisions to INB “Teaching About Controversial Issue” Policy

Written by: Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia and EV Advocates

Dear Bedford County School Board,

I am writing to you on behalf of Equality Virginia, the leading advocacy organization in Virginia seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people in all corners of our Commonwealth. We write to share our concerns about the proposed revisions to Bedford County School Board’s (BCSB) INB “Teaching About Controversial Issues” policy, in particular, the provision of this policy that would prohibit any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. This policy, if passed, will foster an unsafe and unwelcoming school atmosphere. We urge you to reject it.

The proposed policy has one goal- to make it impossible for LGBTQ+ youth to be themselves in schools—potentially disciplining teachers for even talking about LGBTQ+ people or issues, and potentially banning teachers from supporting LGBTQ+ students. In short, by supporting this proposed policy you are sending a message that Bedford County Public Schools (BCPS) want LGBTQ+ youth to be treated like they don’t exist, and those who disagree will face consequences.

You are stigmatizing and discriminating against LGBTQ+ students and teachers by treating them differently than other students and teachers in the school. Cisgender and heterosexual students are not taught, for instance, that they are not acceptable to the general public because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Cisgender and heterosexual teachers are not taught, for instance, that their relationships are immoral or that they must hide them simply because of whom they love. Anti-LGBTQ+ school policies, such as your proposed policy, perpetuate a stereotype of LGBTQ+ students and teachers as a dangerous, immoral class of people from whom others must be shielded.

These policies create an official climate of discrimination, which can contribute to the bullying of LGBTQ+ students, who are at a heightened risk of suicide. Findings from the GLSEN 2021 National School Climate Survey demonstrate that Virginia schools were not safe for most LGBTQ+ secondary school students. Many LGBTQ+ students in Virginia reported discriminatory policies or practices at their school. LGBTQ+ students in schools with similar policies are: less likely to report having supportive teachers and staff at their school, less likely to report having LGBTQ+-related resources in school, less likely to report effective intervention from school staff in handling bullying and harassment problems, and more likely to report hearing homophobic remarks from school staff. Don’t let BCPS add to these alarming statistics.

These policies would have a chilling effect on LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, programs, and policies, even where they would not actually be barred by these policies. In other words, even where these policies do not prohibit teaching about gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk in a history class or reading a Walt Whitman poem in an English class or mentioning Virginia’s own history marking the passage of the Virginia Values Act, schools and teachers may misinterpret them as doing so. That uniquely harms LGBTQ+ students, but it also deprives other students of the benefits of an accurate, inclusive education.

Students and teachers in public school systems across Virginia, including those in Bedford County, rely on their school board to set the tone and expectations of a welcoming, affirming, and effective learning environment.

The BCPS community is home to a wonderfully vibrant student body, and one that is calling on their school board to stand with them and commit to supporting their success and wellbeing in the school environment. By rejecting the policy, you have an opportunity to send a clear message– to families, students, and educators– that Bedford County schools support diversity, not division.

I encourage you to reject the proposed revisions to INB “Teaching About Controversial Issues” policy.

Narissa Rahaman (she/her)

Executive Director