Va. Beach school board considers LGBT protections

Jordan Crawford | 11/14/2013, 10:05 a.m.
Virginia Beach school board members want to protect gay students from bullying and gay employees from discrimination by changing the ...

Equality Virginia supports boards that change their employee nondiscrimination policies as well, but the organization has not urged them to do so because of the Virginia Human Rights Act, Parrish said. Instead, the organization has lobbied the General Assembly to change the law.

Parrish also noted that in 2010, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told Virginia colleges and universities they can’t adopt policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation because of the Human Rights Act. But, Parrish said, a different attorney general could rule otherwise, and in a few months, the state will have a new one.

McDonald said that according to his research, almost 60 percent of Virginia’s school divisions include sexual orientation in their student anti-harassment or anti-bullying policies.

It’s rarer in policies for employees. Only 11 divisions have employment non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation, according to McDonald. And just one - Charlottesville city - lists both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“Even though adopting these policies may not technically be authorized by Virginia law, it’s clear that consequences of doing so are little if any, and the benefits of doing so are clear,” McDonald wrote in an email. The policies will improve student safety and attract teachers who otherwise might be lost to more inclusive employers, he said.

Leonard Tengco, a board member who’s also an attorney, said the legality is complicated because state, federal and local laws don’t match up.

“There’s a lot of gray in this area,” he said. There could be unintended legal consequences if the board changes the schools’ employment policy, Tengco said, but the benefits for students and employees far outweigh the potential liability.

Edwards added he understands why the board’s attorney won’t sign off on it. “It’s her job to tell the board it can’t go over 55 miles per hour,” he said. “She can’t tell us that we should do it, but sometimes you have to look beyond that.”