FCPS Pride Rally Mobilizes Leaders Against Lawsuit

FCPS Pride Rally Mobilizes Leaders Against Lawsuit

Will FCPS continue to be safe for LGBTQIA+ students?

Carla Okouch, music educator and choral director in Fairfax County Public Schools. Photo contributed by FCPS Pride

Carla Okouch, music educator and choral director in Fairfax County Public Schools. Photo contributed by FCPS Pride

 Last Thursday, an hour before the regular 7 p.m. March 21 Fairfax County School Board meeting, Fairfax County Public School Pride students organized and prepared to rally with their supporters outside Luther Jackson Middle School in Merrifield. They rallied to protest a legal complaint that challenges FCPS transgender policies, calling them sex and religious discrimination and violation of free speech rights. The lawsuit was filed against FCPS school board by American First Legal.

Andrew J. Block, former senior advisor to former president Donald Trump and president of American First Legal, filed the complaint, Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, Case No. 2024-03171, in Fairfax County Circuit Court on March 4.

If the court were to rule in the plaintiff’s favor, it would threaten FCPS Regulation 2603, adopted Oct. 9, 2020, and revised April 21, 2022. The procedures and guidelines for schools ensure that all students, including gender-expansive and transgender students, “experience a safe, supportive, and inclusive school environment.”

Laura Truong, an 18-year-old senior in FCPS said the lawsuit amounts to an attack on safety for transgender students. “This lawsuit could tear apart the safe space that school has been — or should be — for transgender students. It’s an attack on the rights and safety of students and on student expression.”

“FCPS Pride stands with all transgender, non-binary, gender expansive, and other marginalized students in Fairfax County Public Schools in the face of an abhorrent lawsuit filed by Stephen Miller’s America First Legal Foundation against our school board,” posted FCPS Pride @FCPSPride. “Students should not be put at risk of bullying, harm, or discrimination.” According to FCPS Pride, “1 in 4 FCPS students identify as LGBTQIA+, so teachers should always assume that there is a transgender [student.]”

Opposing the anti-trans litigation, elected officials, representatives of education associations, and clergy, such as Delegates Marcus Simon and Laura Jane Cohen, Amber Beichler from Transgender Education Association of Greater Washington, Chuck Ronco of the Fairfax Foundation Association, and Pastor Jung Pyo Hong spoke at the rally. 

Del. Laura Jane Cohen, former Fairfax County school board member (2019- 2023), said, "I was proud to have the opportunity, as we approach Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, to not only speak as a delegate and former school board member, but also as the mom of a trans young person. As we continue to bear horrific tragedies in our community, most recently the tragic loss of Nex Benedict, we are reminded that family love and acceptance aren't always enough,” Cohen said. “As a mom and a Delegate, I will continue to fiercely fight to ensure schools across the Commonwealth are inclusive, affirming, and supportive places where all our children can thrive." 

The students also plan to celebrate Transgender Visibility Day in Fairfax County on March 31. On March 19, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a proclamation in a vote of 9-0, with Supervisor Pat Herrity of Springfield out of the room, that March 31 be designated as Transgender Visibility Day. Chairman Jeff McKay and Supervisors Bierman, Walkinshaw, Lusk, Alcorn, Jimenez, Storck, Palchik, and Smith requested the proclamation. Reading the proclamation, Supervisor Jimmy Bierman (D-Dranesville) said in part, “In celebration of the county's richly diverse population and our One Fairfax policy, we affirm and restate our commitment to building a culture of inclusion and acceptance of transgender individuals … and urge all residents to support the transgender community.”

Shortly before the 6 p.m. rally, a FCPD officer responded to Luther Jackson Middle School. An LGBTQIA+ supporter reported a larceny, according to a police spokesperson in an email to The Connection. The spokesperson wrote that the complainant advised police she posted two pride flag signs on school property, and as soon as she walked away, a man took both signs and put them in his vehicle and drove away. “The motive of the larceny is currently under investigation,” the police spokesperson said.

“I am very sad that the yard signs were taken in front of our eyes,” Rigby texted to The Connection after the rally. “It seemed just a very uncharitable thing to do. He took our symbols of inclusion and community during our celebration,” he said.

The American First Legal release on March 5 states, “FCPS Regulation 2603 requires all students to refer to ‘students who identify as gender-expansive or transgender by their chosen name and pronoun, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent pupil record.’ In practice, this rule requires students to adhere to a woke agenda that denies reality [and] even more disturbingly, the rule allows students to use the restroom and locker room ‘consistent with the student’s gender identity.’” 

The lawsuit is on behalf of an FCPS practicing Roman Catholic high school student “for allowing teenage boys to use the female restrooms and for forcing a radical, government-sponsored gender indoctrination and approved-speech scheme that discriminates against students on the basis of sex and religion and violates their free speech rights under the Virginia Constitution,” according to America First Legal

Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, stems from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Department of Education Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools, 2023, effective July 18 of last year for the treatment of transgender and non-binary students.

The Virginia Department of Education Model Policies 2023 sparked criticism from LGBTQIA+ advocates, like FCPS Pride. School divisions, including Richmond, Arlington, and Fairfax, refused to adopt the new version of policies that limit access to restrooms, in tension with federal law (Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board), prohibit teachers and school staff from calling students by their affirming names and pronouns unless there is written permission from a parent; and allow teachers and staff to disregard parent's written instruction and misname and misgender students in the classroom based on their personal beliefs among other things. 

ACLU Virginia reacted with Breanna Diaz, ACLU of Virginia Policy and Legislative Counsel, who said at the time, “We are horrified that VDOE opted to move forward with proposed model policies that at best invite — and at worst, require — discrimination, that violate state and federal law, and that have no place in Virginia schools.” 

The “guidance document,” as the Virginia Department of Education termed it, rolled back protections for trans and non-binary students enacted under Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, the Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (2020)

On Aug, 15, 2023, Michelle Reid, Ed.D, Superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools, rejected the Model Policies 2023, issuing a Superintendent Message, telling parents the district’s existing policies still stood “for our gender expansive and transgender students.” Reid added that a detailed legal review determined that the current Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) policies on transgender and gender-expansive students were consistent with federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

In reaction, on Aug. 23, 2023, Jason S. Miyares, Attorney General of Virginia issued an official Attorney General’s Opinion, saying that “model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools … do not violate federal or state discrimination laws … [and] pursuant to Code § 22.1-23.3, local school boards are required to adopt policies that are consistent with these model policies.”