Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: We Need Safe Schools, Now More Than Ever

By Josh Israel

Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a bipartisan resolution supporting diversity in the county and affirming its commitment to safe schools. Amid a terrifying national surge of threats and hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ, this was an important symbolic statement that, in our diverse community, we must all stand together. Days later the Democratic majority on the Fairfax County School Board passed its own resolution, endorsing the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ statement (the three Republicans abstained, citing procedural objections). It is about time.

The County Board Republicans recognized that something as basic as saying “Fairfax respects everybody” should not be a partisan issue. It was disappointing that Republican School Board Members Elizabeth Schultz, Jeanette Hough, and Thomas Wilson, however, felt it was more important to make a statement about process to their Democratic colleagues than to make a statement about inclusion to the more than 186,000 students served by the Fairfax County Public Schools.

Since the November elections, many Americans who have previously felt they must keep their bigotry quiet seem to believe the results have been an invitation to demonize and terrorize anyone who is different. Apparently, having a president who demonstrates racism, sexism, xenophobia, and an indifference (at best) to homophobia and transphobia has emboldened some to share similar sentiments in increasingly public ways. In recent weeks, a small but angry minority in our community has used public comment time to demand the Fairfax County School Board roll back protections for LGBTQ students. In addition, one member of the Board of Supervisors has even suggested segregating children from immigrant families in separate educational facilities and programs — a dangerous overreaction to a tragic incident in Rockville that is as emblematic of the actions of most immigrant kids as Mister Ed was typical of most horses. Indeed study after study has found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are those born here in the United States of America.

I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity lately. I recently learned that a high school friend of mine, the son of the principal of a Christian academy, converted to Judaism. This surprised me a little. However, upon reflection, I realized that it should not have. At this point in my life, I should be used to the unexpected. In recent years, one Jewish friend of mine became a devout Episcopalian, while another became a Muslim. Though each is a bit grayer, they remain the same amazing people with whom I did some really bad theatrical productions, debated both at tournaments and over pizza, and stayed up late watching cartoons.

I also recently learned that a friend and mentor I assumed to be heterosexual married his same-sex partner of more than a decade. I was delighted for him. I was also overjoyed a brilliant colleague of mine whose family brought her to America as a small child and who was able to work for our non-profit thanks to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She just married her longtime boyfriend and has now begun the long process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

What these people and experiences have in common is that while an aspect of each of them has changed since we first met, what has not changed is who they fundamentally are – wonderful people.

For me, the biggest change in my own life came several months ago when I became a father for the first time. I look at our two-month old and wonder who they will become. This adorable baby’s ultimate sexual orientation, gender identity, possible disabilities, choice of religion, and future will be revealed in good time. I have made it clear that loyalty to the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals are non-negotiable, but I recognize that even that is probably beyond my control.

It is vital for us to celebrate and protect all of the diverse identities that make up our community, not only because that diversity strengthens and enriches us all, but also because we ultimately never know which of our children and adolescents may need or benefit from those protections.

Regardless of who my own child proves to be, it will be a loved kid. Knowing that mine is just one of thousands of other newborns who will be in Kindergarten in the blink of an eye, it is of paramount importance to me that our local elected officials show through their words and deeds that each child will be valued, protected, and included in our community.


Josh Israel is LGBTQ chair for the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.