Chesterfield Supporting LGBTQ+ Students With Pride Month Recognition
At their June 1 meeting, the Chesterfield School Board approved a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ+ month. It comes as several states have passed laws banning transgender athletes from girls' sports and as the Virginia Department of Education is being sued over guidelines to protect transgender students.
School board member Dot Heffron said she was approached by a school district employee who expressed how meaningful it would be for the division to recognize Pride month. Pride events are held in June to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City that happened on June 28, 1969, which most historians consider to be the birth of the modern LGBT movement, according to the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“You know, when one of our stakeholders, especially an employee, somebody who has such an impact on our day-to-day life expresses [something] this personal, something that their employer can do that's very meaningful to them, I think it's our obligation to respond,” Heffron said.
Having Pride month recognized by the school board was important to students Olivia and Lauren. Both are juniors at Clover Hill High School.
“It's important for a lot of people to realize that it’s a thing and they need to understand that there’s a lot of people who are part of the community who are looking for support,” Olivia said.
The two students are part of Clover Hill’s Ally Club, a group dedicated to fostering a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and their allies at the school. Olivia and Lauren, along with half a dozen other students and faculty, were taking part in a “Chalk the Walk” activity to support the group’s mission. Though the threat of thunderstorms moved the group into the school's commons area, the weather didn’t damper anyone’s enthusiasm.
“As a member of the LBGTQ community, I thought it would be appropriate to come out and support my own people,” Lauren said.
The dean of students at Clover Hill, Erin Guthe, approved the event.
“I think that our school board has taken a step in the right direction by getting this initiative approved. It actually made it a lot easier for us as an administrative staff to give the green light for this type of event,” Guthe said.
Some students, such as Faye Ardoin at James River High School, think the district can do more for LGBTQ+ students.
“I definitely think it is a step in the direction that we need to be going. However, I don't think that it's enough,” Ardoin said. “I think that we need to be doing more as students, as queer students, especially, and allies, to make sure that everyone remains educated and knows exactly what is happening in schools.”
Part of the resolution states:
“June 28, 2021 marks the fifty-second anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, an event which served as a catalyst for the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in America;
the School Board recognizes that, while great strides have been made in the pursuit of equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, there is still much more work to be done; and
WHEREAS, LGBTQ+ youth across the country face increased bullying and harassment, are twice as likely as their peers to complete suicide, and are at increased risk of academic failure and dropping out;”
The entire five-member school board approved the resolution in their consent agenda.
Heffron said prior to the resolution, the board did not get any negative feedback from the public or parents. But after adopting it, she said people began sending them comments, many of them negative.
"We've had a handful of folks expressing dismay at our willingness to put this out,” Heffron said. “I think there's misunderstanding going around in the community. You know, there are some people who think this is supporting some sort of a curriculum in our classrooms. This is not a classroom-based resolution.”
Heffron said that the basis is an "an organizational affirmation, reiterating our commitment to inclusion, equity, all of which are our core values.”
"There's no hidden agenda, we're not proposing any curriculum changes. It was just simply an organizational statement,” she said.
NEW POLICY PROTECTING TRANSGENDER STUDENTS
The last part of that resolution statement above also ties into what the school board is in the middle of doing this summer. As required by the Virginia Department of Education, the board must create and enact a new policy on the treatment of transgender students in the school district.
The new guidance is required by legislation passed during last year’s General Assembly session. The new law also requires local school boards to adopt policies that align with the VDOE guidelines to protect gender nonconforming students from discrimination and harassment.
Heffron said the new policy under review falls in line with what VDOE put out, but that it’s “entirely brand new.”
The six-page policy, which the school board can add to, breaks down terminology around transgender and non-binary students; highlights ways laws and the First Amendment protect students' rights to free expression of identity and the Equal Access Act, which says that public schools must provide equal access to clubs.
Heffron said the board will finish reviewing that policy, along with several others by August. The public will then be allowed to comment on them before the board votes in August.
James River High School senior Jason Melendez has been reading and reviewing the policy as soon as VDOE wrote it up. He said he has some faith in the district.
“If there's space to go forward, expand upon that policy, I'm sure Dr. Doherty and the central office staff will take that step,” Melendez said.
Melendez, who regularly speaks during the public comment period at school board meetings, said he hopes the school board takes the policy seriously and doesn’t “rubber stamp it” to simply say “that something was done.” He referenced Chair Ryan Harter’s comments at the board’s most recent meeting, in which Harter said CCPS will not be teaching critical race theory.
“So even though there were actions taken in terms of addressing diversity, racial inclusion, there was also concern about whether that was just a rubber stamp,” Melendez said. “So the hope is that in terms of LGBTQ+ issues, that doesn't become the same trend, but we don't want to see as a trend overall, in general.”
Heffron said the board wants to stay in alignment with the policy as written by VDOE.
“I don't know that there's anything that I would add or take away from this list. It's a really good, comprehensive list of things that they've brought together,” Heffron said.