FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - Thursday night was a big win for transgender rights in Fairfax County.
The Fairfax County School Board unanimously approved an updated Students Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) document Thursday, enumerating — for the first time — essential rights and protections for transgender and other gender-expansive students.
Transgender and gender-expansive students are thrilled with the Board’s decision and say they’re feeling safer as they prepare to start back to school in the fall.
"That felt pretty great," Fairfax County student Frankie Sellars said. "It, you know, really feels really supporting and makes me feel safer going in next year that a lot of that stuff is kind of out of mind, taken off my chest."
Among the protections are the right to use facilities that align with their gender identity, the right to be called by their chosen name and pronoun, the right to non-disclosure of their gender identity or sexual orientation and the right to receive support that ensures equitable access to all school facilities and activities.
I've talked to many students. I've talked to many families, and they agree, this is long overdue," said Karl Frisch, FCPS Board Member. "It's refreshing to hear the Fairfax County School Board stand up and say what's right is right."
Additionally, the revised SR&R protects students from being intentionally outed or maliciously misgendered or deadnamed.
"This was really about giving students more rights, so what's different in this document than just the regulations is it helps students hold each other accountable," said David Aponte, Chair of GLSEN Northern Virginia. "It also specifically lets us know what's considered hateful language, so things like malicious misgendering, malicious deadnaming, and intentional outing of students. those are specifically named for the first time in any document related to this."
These rights and protections are in accordance with the School Board’s nondiscrimination policy, FCPS regulations and Virginia code.
"In recent months, School Board meetings in neighboring counties have descended into chaos as extremists attempt to deny these [gender-expansive and transgender] students their very existence, attack their humanity, and object to their right to thrive in public schools," Frisch said. "To the gender-expansive and transgender students and their families who have witnessed these attacks on their simple human dignity, I am sorry. You deserve much, much better."
Frisch noted that the vote does not "sweep away the pain and hurt" these students have experienced.
"But the changes we approve in this new Student Rights and Responsibilities document demonstrate our commitment to your success and safety in Fairfax County Public Schools," he said.
Efforts to provide gender-expansive and transgender students greater protections began in 2015 when the school board voted to extend its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity.
Although FCPS staff prepared an initial regulation in July 2016, implementation was suspended until pending legal issues could be evaluated and resolved.
During the spring 2020 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161 amending Virginia code to address issues regarding the treatment of transgender and other gender-expansive students in public schools.
"What's new are the words against outing with intention, malicious misgendering, and malicious deadnaming. So it gives protection to LGBTQIA kids from bullying and slurs and things like that," said Robert Rigby Fairfax County Latin teacher and Co-President of FCPS Pride.
Rigby said his colleagues in Loudon county were jealous the school board was able to pass the measure without any fuss.
Aponte, who works with several counties in northern Virginia on these issues, said he hoped that progress in Fairfax would translate into progress in Loudoun County soon.