The Fayette County Board of Education has taken the best step forward in broadening its anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This change speaks to the Lexington Fairness Ordinance, which was adopted in 1999, adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Superintendent Tom Shelton and the school board have shown their commitment to equality and diversity, reflecting Lexington's own understanding of the need to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans gender men and women with fairness.
Teachers, counselors, administrative staff, bus drivers and others employed by Fayette County Public Schools need no longer worry that they might face discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although these protections were codified through the Fairness Ordinance, the school board's move gives employees greater peace of mind that they are supported by their employer.
This action by our school board should be applauded. Unfortunately, school boards are not mandated to include LGBT provisions in their anti-discrimination policies. That means the issue must be dealt with on the local level, and Fayette County decided to take the lead in protecting public school employees when the state won't.
Kentucky, in the past, has been at the forefront of civil rights and anti-discrimination protections. It is time for the state to again be a leader in the pursuit of happiness and equality of all citizens. The school system has positioned itself to publicly acknowledge the value of treating all employees equally, and we hope more will follow.
But the question of discrimination, fairness and harassment in our public schools does not end there. Student bullying has driven at least three Kentucky children to suicide in the past nine months. Each year, nearly 13 million students across the country are targeted for harassment in and out of school. Bullying affects all students, but studies have shown that 85 percent of LGBT students are harassed in school, a noticeable increase from the general student population.
The Fayette schools' anti-discrimination policy sends a message to our students that in our city, one can be proud of who he or she is, while being a respected member of the community. This ties in directly with Shelton's interest in actively preventing bullying in schools, beginning this school year.
Project Speak Out, a bullying prevention program, begins trainings in August. Thirty community leaders, including several school employees, will be given free access to an intensive three-day training program in methods and resources to help school and community leaders identify, address and prevent bullying.
These 30 community volunteers will turn around and provide free resources and professional development trainings to school staff and others who have a need for bullying prevention education This education will minimize bullying incidents while providing resources to the community.
With both bullying prevention and discrimination protection among the Fayette schools' goals and values, a clear statement is being sent: Respect for all students and staff is a primary value of the school system. We should unite as a community and stand behind these values, and show our support of the school system and all who are working to provide and protect fairness, diversity, equality and respect for all.