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People Rally Against Nondiscrimination Proposal

July 17, 2002

Twenty-three people rallied in front of Luther Jackson Middle School Thursday, an hour and half before the Fairfax County School Board's regular business meeting.

The group was there to express its opposition to the board’s considering adding sexual orientation to the school system's nondiscrimination policy.

"Sexual orientation is a loaded term. It militates against normal behavior," said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute. "I've seen sexual orientation introduced to schools. It's the beginning of homosexual activism."

The rally attracted members of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), the Virginia Eagle Forum, the Family Foundation, the Culture and Family Institute and the Concerned Women for America.

A MAJORITY OF THE SPEAKERS said changing the policy would lead to discrimination against those who do not support what they referred to as a “homosexual lifestyle,” would open the door to the recruitment of students by gays, and would make the school system vulnerable to lawsuits.

"My concern is for the child nudged into a gay lifestyle. … They are told they have no choice, no hope," said Steve Hunt, a member of the Fairfax County School Health Advisory Committee.

Regina Griggs, the executive director of PFOX, said the Virginia Supreme Court, by striking down an Arlington policy extending employee benefits to same-sex partners, has affirmed homosexuality is illegal in the state.

She said the policy change would encourage harassment of ex-gays and criticized the school system for not permitting sexual reorientation materials in school libraries while allowing materials that deal with homosexuality.

"No one is born a homosexual. Science shows there is no gay gene. There is no biological evidence to date," Griggs said. "Thousands of doctors, therapists and counselors say gays can change. We are denying children the truth."

Peter LaBarbera, a senior policy analyst for the Culture and Family Institute, said GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, was promoting cross-dressing for elementary-school students and referenced a children's storybook about a little boy who wanted a skirt for show and tell.

"The main reason this is before the board is because [Hayfield Secondary special education teacher] Robert Rigby [co-chair of the local GLSEN chapter] is pushing it," LaBarbera said. "We've been tracking GLSEN, and this is only the beginning."

INSIDE, THE DEBATE continued when nine of the 10 public speakers spoke either in favor of or against the proposed policy change. The board is not scheduled to take action on the matter until July 25.

"Of all the categories Fairfax County Schools currently includes in its antidiscrimination policy, sexual orientation would essentially be the only category that is declared and not self-evident," said Allan Dobras, a 30-year Fairfax County resident. "I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt my age; likewise my race, color, sex, national origin, marital status or handicapping condition. Religion, of course, is a matter of choice, but one that is a specific right granted under the First Amendment."

By contrast, those in support of the policy change said they are seeking protection for all students and staff.

"Sexual orientation includes under its umbrella ex-gays," said Rigby, who said he was a member of the ex-gay movement at one time. He said the proposed policy change would not single out ex-gays for discrimination and instead would give teachers and administrators the power and confidence to protect all students from discrimination.

Craig Hamberger, a Fairfax County resident, read from a letter written by a gay student who graduated from Madison in 2000: "In reality, there is little tolerance in FCPS toward gay students. That is the reason why sexual orientation needs to be added to the nondiscrimination policy. Most of the gay students and former students that I know are closeted, mostly due to fear of being ostracized by their fellow students or of being verbally or physically abused by them. Being openly gay or perceived to be gay is one of the worst things that a student can face. Teachers and administrators rarely frown upon verbal gay-bashing, which occurs frequently."

Karen Solon, a parent of county school graduates, said the Fairfax County Police Department and Board of Supervisors already have added sexual orientation to their personnel policies and the school system should follow suit.

"A public hearing found overwhelming support for the measures, and for the third year in a row, the county will request and lobby for the clear legal authority from Richmond to add sexual orientation to the county's Human Rights Code," Solon said. "Until discrimination becomes illegal, adding orientation to personnel policies is the best we can do. At least we can do that."

The board, in light of the testimony, requested an opinion from its legal counsel as to whether it has the authority to add sexual orientation to the policy.