The Baltimore County school board pledged its commitment this week to LGBTQ+ inclusivity in schools, even as some members questioned the rights of students to use names, pronouns and school facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
The resolution was introduced Tuesday with a plea from the board’s new student representative, Christian Thomas, who described to his adult counterparts how, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he had experienced homophobia in school over the years. And the rising senior at Eastern Technical High School said he has not seen his own experience reflected in classroom conversations on topics such as history or human health.
“I am here to ensure that us LGBTQ+ kids have a seat at the governance here at [Baltimore County Public Schools],” Thomas said before introducing the resolution, which expressed broad support for discussions throughout the school system about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. And it specifically affirmed students’ right to use preferred names, pronouns and school facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
The resolution is nonbinding, but confirms the board’s symbolic support for the LGBTQ+ community within the school system responsible for educating more than 111,000 students. The school system still would need to adopt and implement any changes related to the resolution. Thomas modeled the resolution after a policy recently passed by the Anne Arundel County school board, he said.
Some school board members said they rejected discrimination against LGBTQ+ people but expressed reluctance to endorse the resolution’s language for fear of upsetting some parents.
Board member Lily Rowe delivered the most ardent challenge to Thomas’ resolution, stating that it overstepped parents’ right to opt their child out of some educational content on sexual health. Rowe also said she was uncomfortable stating that students have a right to preferred pronouns out of deference to U.S. courts.
After a pause, Rowe added one more objection.
“I also don’t agree that my 10-year-old girl should have to share a bathroom with a penis,” Rowe said. “I just can’t.”
Thomas replied that he found her statement to be “very ignorant.”
Board member Russell Kuehn also said he had to weigh the rights of parents who would be “vastly concerned” about the resolution and he wasn’t prepared to support it in its current form.
And board member Lisa Mack said she was thinking of students who come from sheltered homes and wondered whether parents regularly hear about changes to health courses. She gave an example of how male and female students may learn about menstruation alongside one another.
“I think kids would be embarrassed by that,” Mack said.
Several board members including Erin Hager, Julie Henn and Makeda Scott spoke strongly in support of the motion. Hager saw the resolution as a natural extension of the “Black Lives Matter” resolution that the board passed last summer.
Hager worried aloud that “some folks on the board are maybe a little sheltered themselves.”
At times, board members both in favor of and opposed to the resolution stumbled over letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym and other such terms in the resolution — a detail Thomas called out as he argued that system leaders needed more education on the matter. A portion of the resolution promises that board members will familiarize themselves with the composition of and disparities facing LGBTQ+ students.
The motion passed with nine votes, with Rowe casting the lone ‘nay.’ Kuehn and Kathleen Causey abstained from the vote in favor of more review.