The following was submitted to The Tribune in response to an op-ed by Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd) on Jan. 5.
I could not disagree with you more on your stance over the Loudoun County School Board’s upcoming decision to protect the categories of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
I am an 18-year-old gay man who was raised Catholic. I attended Saint Joseph School in Fairfax County for grades K-4. From then on, I was brought up in the Loudoun County Public School system, going from Algonkian Elementary School, to River Bend Middle School, and finally Potomac Falls High School. My time spent in the Loudoun County Public Schools was amazing, but that is not the case for all members of my community.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ+) community is a diverse community filled with many individual identities. I understand your confusion – in a community as diverse as ours, it can be difficult to understand exactly what different identities mean. When I finally accepted to myself that I was gay, and a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I too was confused as to what exactly certain people’s identities meant. However, rather than alienate and criticize what I did not understand, I asked questions. It can be so easy to simply ignore and outlaw people who are not like us, but instead I sought solutions to my unanswered questions. I met people for the first time in my life who identified as transgender and gender fluid, things I really did not comprehend until I spoke to them first hand. Rather than ask questions in order to attempt to understand what sexual orientation and gender identity really mean, you have simply abhorred and cast off these very real things.
You claim that “affirming and encouraging abnormal behavior…will potentially have a bad effect on teachers and students.” I disagree. If you walk around any public school, elementary, middle, or high, you will see posters in the hallways, in classrooms, and in offices that bear slogans such as “Stand up for what is right, even if you’re standing alone,” “Dare to be different,” and “Minds are like parachutes, they only function when they are open.” These messages all encourage the individual to overcome adversity even if they are alone in doing so. If posters that are plastered in every Loudoun County Public School encourage students to be different, to be “abnormal,” then how can you expect or even desire for students to not be so?
You speak of how teachers in Fairfax County have left teaching because of progressive policies which allow for protections over sexual orientation and gender identity within the school system which is their right as employees. If a teacher disagrees with the county policy and will not uphold it, then they should quit because they will no longer be qualified to fulfill that position. Teachers who choose to do this can go work in other counties where the policies are not as progressive or at private schools which are permitted to set their own policies.
You state that you have “heard nothing to support the idea that students will be better off in any way at all” if this policy is adopted in Loudoun County. If you do not see how students will be better off, it is because you are looking at the wrong group of students. You are looking at the students who are normal because you do not dare to look at the different kids. You fail to see the transgender student who is told that she should kill herself. You fail to see the gay student who is called a “faggot” simply because he likes boys. You fail to see the student who is beaten by their classmates because some days they wear shirts and pants and other days they wear skirts and blouses. You have created a horrible “us vs. them” situation. As I stated before, it is so easy to simply dislike and ignore those who are unlike you. You are looking at the students that are like you: heterosexual and cisgender (a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex) when you should be focusing your attention on the “abnormal” students who need recognition and help from their school systems.
Your comparison between homosexuality and smoking is ridiculous. Multiple times in your letter, you state that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not – no identity within the LGBTQ+ community is a choice. If you believe that sexual orientation is a choice, then I have a question for you: When did you choose to be straight?
You talk about how students and young people should not be exposed to “abnormal” people, especially in the classroom to which I, yet again, disagree. Take an example of having a gay man as a teacher. How does this endanger students? It does not. Having a role model such as a teacher, who just so happens to be gay, only helps show students that being different is okay. You fear that homosexuality is contagious, and that being exposed to it will cause other people to become gay. This thought is so horribly flawed and ridiculous. Because being gay is not a choice, being exposed to a gay teacher will not have any sort of effect on a student’s own sexual orientation.
In conclusion, I would like to make a suggestion to you. I am about to make an assumption, and if this assumption is wrong then I sincerely apologize. However, I presume, based off of your letter, that you do not know anyone well who identifies as LGBTQ+. You come across as very bigoted and prejudiced towards a community that you do not understand. Something I learned during my first semester at Elon University, a private university in North Carolina and my new home for the next three years, is that you must become proximate to issues and problems in order to help solve them. Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights activist and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, came to Elon University and addressed my class on how important it is to step into the shoes of people who are not like you in order to enact positive change. At the 2016 Carnegie Summit, Stevenson said “You cannot be an effective problem-solver from a distance. There are details and nuances to problems that you will miss unless you are close enough to observe those details.” I implore you to find wisdom in these words and to get proximate to the LGBTQ+ community. Get close to us, ask us questions, see us as people worth fighting for.