Virginia State Supreme Court upholds protections for LGBTQ students
When Fairfax County Public Schools codified protections for LGBTQ students, local conservative groups got mad, but their attempts to roll back the protections have been dealt yet another blow today,
According to the Associated Press, The Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a law suit against FCPS because of the groups “lack of standing.” The Judge, according to AP, said the student’s complaint of “‘general distress’ over the non-discrimination policy” was not enough to bring a suit against the rule.
State-wide, protections only exist for students along state-sanctioned non-discrimination lines (race, gender, religion, etc.). Absent from that list is sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections could stop a teacher from condemning a student for identifying as gay, or allow a trans student to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.
FCPS added protections for LGBTQ’s in 2015 in line with a supportive letter from state Attorney General Mark Herring. The debate over protecting LGBTQ students was stifled by the conservative former-AG Ken Cuccinelli who worked to stop state-run colleges for expanding such protections back in 2010.
“Colleges that have included such language in their policies — which include all of Virginia’s leading schools — have done so “without proper authority” and should “take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia,” Cuccinelli wrote in a letter sent to VCU and other colleges that had expanded such protections.
He pointed to the state’s Dillon Rule status which prohibits localities from using powers not explicitly given to them by the General Assembly.
But in his 2015 letter, Herring said both the State Supreme Court and the GA had supporting a school’s right to to “regulate for the ‘safety and welfare’ of children,” which included expanding protections.
Shortly after the policy was put in place a law suit was brought on behalf of a “student complainant” represented by the historically anti-LGBTQ Liberty Council out of Liberty University.
“Virginia law explicitly prohibits local governing bodies from adding to, or removing protected classes from, the state’s nondiscrimination policy,” wrote Liberty Counsel in a press release, mimicking Cuccinelli’s argument. “In direct defiance, Fairfax has added new groups to its policy twice now.”
Virginia continues to lack codified protections for LGBTQs in housing, employment and hate crime laws. By Liberty’s understanding state-funded school policies should match.
But AG Herring has long championed public school’s offering these protections.
“Every Virginian has the right to live, learn, and work without fear of discrimination,” said Herring, at the time, in a statement released along with the opinion. “That’s a Virginia value, and one that we must guard even more carefully when it comes to our children.”
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