Two court filings from Loudoun County, Virginia, are seeking to push back on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues by taking up right-wing talking points over critical race theory and transgender pronouns.
It’s important to remember that Loudoun County opposed public school desegregation until 1968 and only recently took time to apologize. In the meantime, conservatives have latched on to critical race theory and transgender pronouns as two social issues to whip up their base, calling for the removal of “problematic” school board members, protesting Policy 8040, and filing recent court cases.
While Loudoun may have enjoyed an early hint in 2017 of the Blue Wave to come in 2018, progressives need to meet this latest pushback from conservatives and die-hard Trumpers looking to invoke timeworn tactics of using school boards as proxies for drumming up voters on social issues.
Charlotte McConnell, President of Equality Loudoun, recently wrote an open letter to Loudoun Now at the start of Pride Month.
The school board, which had voted seven in favor (and one absent) on a Pride proclamation last year, now finds itself passing the same proclamation 5-2 with 1 absent this year. McConnell sought to underscore what this hard-won struggle actually means.
Do not frame Loudoun County as an LGBTQIA+ affirming place to live or visit. It is not. So many of us have stories about being verbally harassed in public or worse.
I spent two years in the School Board room listening to stories of brave students asking to be included instead of denying their pronouns or who they love.
Scott Mineo of Parents Against Critical Race Theory (PACT), along with Patti Hildalgo Menders of the Loudoun Republican Women's Club, filed a suit Wednesday
charging that the Loudoun County Equity Ambassador Program discriminates against white students. The ambassadorship was intended for people of color, though white students could be allies. So, really this was a pretext to attack people of color speaking about racial issues they experienced—by arguing that white free speech was being infringed because some parents didn't like what these students might say.
Another lawsuit comes from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is listed as a hate group
by the Southern Poverty Law Center; their attorneys represent Tanner Cross
, the Leesburg elementary school teacher placed on administrative leave
last week after making public comments at a school board meeting, declaring that he would not use transgender pronouns for students because it went against his religion.
As reported over Memorial Day weekend, Senior Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel took up Cross’ cause (the physical education teacher is a church member), using his Sunday sermon to launch a petition drive to remove “problematic” school board members.
Hamrick also mentioned that several other church members belonged to ADF.
Policy 8040 is the “minimally appropriate and acceptable policy” currently being drafted by the Loudoun Equity Committee, in compliance with the state’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia's Public Schools, Hilary Hultman-Lee, a former teacher in the county with children still in the school system, told me by phone. She attended part of the online committee meeting Thursday to raise the issue of protecting students from being outed to their parents in an unsafe manner.
Hultman-Lee identified herself as queer and cisgender, as well as a Christian who attends a local affirming church, where she runs major outreach programs. She said she wanted to be sure that "LGBTQ+ students know, despite the current negative attention, that they are seen, heard, and respected … I don't want them to think they are not safe."
An activist in a private messenger channel I follow also described the same Equity Committee meeting Thursday as a show of support and sympathy for the school board. “The SB definitely needs a show of support because they’ve been facing these people for months during the pandemic, and they’ve been truly vicious, and many SB members received personal threats.” The activist also reiterated Hultman-Lee’s point of affirming support for LGBTQ+ kids and staff ,along with support for the goals of the Equity Committee.
Student Equity Ambassadors and other high school students routinely attend these meetings. “They had to sit there at all these committee meetings while adults made rude, derogatory, and dismissive public comments,” the activist said. “Luckily (the negative adults) were finally outnumbered by comments of support. But our kids need to see us standing up for them.”
The activist then pointed out the opposition’s lack of priorities. “We have kids in this county without food, clothing, and shelter. We have LGBTQIA kids who are afraid to go to school. We have students of color who have reported so many micro- and macro-aggressions that the (attorney general) opened an investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools,” she pointed out. “What has gotten lost in all of this, and what is motivating me, is that this is all for the kids! So they have a safe place to learn and thrive.”
Cris Tuck, who wrote a letter to the Loudoun Now editor earlier in the year about the harm transgender and nonbinary youth face, spoke favorably about affirming the use of preferred pronouns for the mental health and well-being of students. Tuck, who identifies as transgender and genderfluid, has children who go to the same school where Cross taught. While Tuck thought Cross’ dismissal might have been rushed, he disagreed with Cross, who framed this as a religious issue. Tuck considers this to be an issue of child safety; further, Tuck asserts that it is among the duties of school staff to not use their own personal beliefs to harass children.
Tuck appeared on MSNBC on Thursday.
I spoke with Tuck via email, and he noted Policy 8040 has “a statutory requirement to pass by the 2021-22 school year, so parent opposition is essentially useless because the conversation now is not whether or not to pass trans protection policies, but how far should they go.” Though anti-trans sentiment is nothing new, Tuck also railed against the current surge of hate, noting simply that transgender people were already participating in school sports and using school bathrooms and locker rooms with little pushback, long before Policy 8040 was drafted to protect them.
Supporters of Cross planned a rally at Cornerstone Chapel to follow his first unconfirmed appearance in Loudoun District Court on Friday. The court is expected to announce Monday whether it will issue an injunction on Cross’ suspension.
Meanwhile, Equality Loudoun, which had plans for a June 18 Pride Picnic, had to reschedule it due to an overwhelming number of individuals, families, and small businesses that wanted to participate and show support.
Perennial hot-button election year issues may come and go, what is eternal are the parents and children who rely upon the public school system for so much. One side bends it to its will, while claiming victimhood. The other wants it to be a safe place for all students who face a predjudiced society, and know their rights against discrimination from adults who fall short.
Both sides, of course, have their version of “Vote them out!”
June 8 is the last day to vote in the very important Democratic primary for Virginia governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and House delegates. Virginia residents, the time is now.