Dear Fairfax County School Board,
Please don’t stop. You’re getting this one right. When you decided in May 2015 to add “gender identity” to the non-discrimination policy, you took a step that will put our schools on the right side of history. You’ve been facing some pretty loud resistance to the decision, and I want to tell you that those voices are not the only ones out here. Also here are parents who are thankful that our kids go to schools that recognize the dignity and worth of all people.
I know the parents who are gathering to stop your momentum. I saw them at a school board meeting in 1950 when they demanded that you preserve segregation. They said it was about local control, about the autonomy of communities to determine their own futures. They organized themselves and worked hard to push back the tide, until the tide came in.
I saw them at a school board meeting in 1970 when they demanded that you put a stop to mainstreaming students with disabilities. They said it was about maintaining standards in the classroom and the ensuring high quality instruction. They gathered their forces and tried to put the brakes, until federal laws passed and localities had to let the momentum carry change forward.
I saw them first at a state legislative session in 1990 when they argued to preserve archaic laws that criminalized sodomy, then the next day a school board meeting when they called for the firing of gay teachers for being “criminals.” They said it was about morals and the safety of the children. They blew lives apart and held their ground until the ground shifted enough to shear loose of their grip.
I saw them at a school board meeting in 2010 when they insisted that undocumented children be barred from the public schools. They said it was about fairness and about national security. They held children to detention centers until enough people recognized that our public education system can do better than imprisoning child refugees.
I know these parents who are trying to stop the school board from enacting updates to Policy 1450. They say it is about respect. They say it is about transparency. They say it is about a predictable process.
But let me be clear: these terms are hate in sheep’s clothing. No matter how rational and polite the arguments appear to be, these are the same parents that have been showing up since the start of our public school system, denying the freedom and access of students who look different than their own.
They’ve chosen their terms with care. Like all of the words they’ve used over the years – standards, morals, safety, fairness, and national security – “Respect” and “transparency” are positive yet vague. People can line up behind their shield without truly owning the nature of their demands.
Their petition claims that there are sacred spaces in the schools that should be somehow omitted from this non-discrimination policy. Bathrooms, for example. And athletics.
Why not water fountains? Why not lunch counters?
No matter where you land in the history of this country, you’ll find people who draw boundaries around the spaces they are determined to control. We all know it’s not about the spaces. It’s about the control. When extending privileges and freedoms to other human beings means the possibility of upsetting the structures that keep them dominant, they will rail against it.
They claim they are not biased, that they have nothing against transgender children – nor do they harbor any ill will towards Black children, children with disabilities, or children whose first language is not English. This sense of magnanimity stops at the doorway of equitable distribution. The advantages of democracy are theirs to maintain against any diffusion. If their own children share a classroom with students whose needs are different or greater, they also have to share the attention of the teachers. They have to share the resources of the school. These parents have come to believe that it’s their job to ensure that own children should have every possible opportunity, even if it means barring others from the rights and freedoms of this democracy.
What might happen if their children have to learn to share?
If we extend to transgender students and staff access to an educational environment that recognizes and protects them, what terrible things might transpire?
The children of the petition-signers might have to try a little harder to be number one in sports. They might have to walk a little further to a bathroom. They might have to face the reality the people who are different than them still have bodily functions. They could become more aware of their privilege and speak out against injustice and unfairness. They might befriend someone who is transgender. They could become an advocate for their friend. Well after graduation, they may go on to stand up for changes in laws, and call on their leaders and neighbors to do the same. They could become lawyers or policymakers or senators who recognize the worth of all human beings. They could become teachers or innovators or human right activists who create ways for people to learn and build a better world.
They could become more compassionate.
They could learn to be engaged citizens of a diverse, living democracy.
Along the way, they might have to sit in a bathroom stall next to Katie who still has a penis.
Along the way, Katie, who still has a penis, may win first in girl’s Track and Field, while their child takes second.
You know what? Their children will be okay.
Their children will somehow manage to use the bathroom without trauma. Their children will still win prizes and go to good colleges.
And all of our children will be better human beings for going to schools that stand on the right side of history.
I applaud your determination to move forward with the changes to Policy 1450.
Parent of an FCPS student