Far-Right Activist Sues Virginia School District Over LGBT-Inclusive Policy

Andrea Lafferty
Andrea Lafferty

Right-wing activists have sued to overturn an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy adopted by the school board in Fairfax County, Va., claiming it violates state law.

Andrea Lafferty, president of the antigay Traditional Values Coalition, and an anonymous student and his parents are the plaintiffs in the suit, and they are represented by the far-right legal group Liberty Counsel, reports The Washington Post.

The Fairfax County school board, which oversees one of the nation’s largest school districts — located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. — added gender identity and expression to the nondiscrimination policy last May and sexual orientation in November 2014. But Lafferty’s suit, filed last week in Fairfax County Circuit Court, claims these moves violate a Virginia law known as Dillon’s Rule, which bars local governing bodies, including school boards, from going beyond state law in such policies. Virginia’s antidiscrimination law does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have warned for months that such changes were not only jeopardizing our children but in direct contravention of long-standing Virginia statute,” Lafferty said a statement, the Post reports. Lafferty, a Fairfax County resident, had fought against the board’s expansion of the policy.

The student, identified only as “Jack Doe,” is “distressed” about the possibility of having to share gender-segregated spaces with transgender students and being disciplined for violating the student code of conduct if he objects, according to the suit.

“Because the new policy and code of conduct are not sufficiently defined, Jack Doe has no way of knowing whether he can, for example, question someone who appears to be a girl using the boys’ restroom or locker room, refer to someone by a certain pronoun or even compliment someone on his/her attire without being subject to discipline for ‘discrimination,’” the suit reads. “Jack Doe is nervous about having to think about every statement or action and its potential sexual connotations to third parties before interacting with students and teachers.”

In March, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion saying that school districts had the right to amend nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the broad authority granted by the state constitution, although they are not required to do so.

Herring aide Michael Kelly told the Post the attorney general stands by his opinion and believes “strongly for the right of every Virginian to live, learn and work without fear of discrimination.”

School board chair Pat Hynes said the board is drafting regulations to accompany the nondiscrimination policy. The board and administration “will continue to ensure that all of our students and employees are treated with dignity, respect and equality,” Hynes said in a statement to the Post.

Robert Rigby Jr., faculty adviser to a gay-straight alliance at one of the district’s high schools, expressed dismay that opponents of the policy had resorted to a lawsuit.

“The express idea is that greater familiarity leads to greater understanding,” Rigby said in a statement, reports D.C. LGBT paper Metro Weekly. “We invite all opponents to meet with us, as conveniently as we are able to arrange it within our schedules over the next few months. … Although these face-to-face meetings will take time and patience, we think that they are a better approach to the controversy in Fairfax than legal measures such as [Freedom of Information Act] requests and lawsuits.”