Orange Co. Schools to address sexual orientation, gender identity discrimination



ORLANDO, Fla. - On Tuesday night, the Orange County School Board will consider adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to its discrimination policy.   

Some parents told WFTV those changes could expose students to things they are too young to understand.

Not every Orange County parent is supporting a proposed policy change that would protect students and teachers from being bullied or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Vickie Mullins said the policy opens her two young daughters up to seeing too much.

"If my elementary school child starts school in the fall with Mr. Smith, he could change to Miss Smith throughout the course of the year," said Mullins.

The district's attorney, Woody Rodriguez, said that's already allowed by federal law. He said it is up to staff to ensure the changes don't create a disturbance.

"The legal department will advise how to follow the law," said Rodriguez.

Some parents expressed concern over students who might identify themselves as one gender but genetically be another and the issues that could cause when it came to the use of restroom facilities.

"There is no intention or any desire to create unisex bathrooms. I don't think that's the requirement of the law, nor is that something the school board wants to address, but we do make accommodations," said Rodriguez.

Currently, that means using a faculty bathroom, away from other students.

Mullins said with such accommodations already in place, she wonders why school leaders feel the need to put it in writing.

"I think maybe people are jumping the gun a little bit in carving out this special category, and right when it might not be what's best for students and definitely what's best for the rest of students and parents involved," said Mullins.

Florida Family Policy council president John Stemberger said the language prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is too vague.

“A young man can say, ‘I feel like I'm a woman today, and I'm going to shower in the women's bathrooms.’ There's nothing to prevent that in this language,” Stemberger said.

But Michael Farmer with Equality Florida said under the new policy, schools would still be able to handle controversial issues on a case-by-case basis.

“Those accusations have been put out there by the extreme fringy, far right, because they want to bog us down in things that are not real,” Farmer said.

Farmer said there is no case of a teacher being discriminated against in Orange County, but Equality Florida pushed for the policy change after hearing from teachers who wanted it.

“Those folks deserve to know they're not going to be fired from their job at any given moment because of who they are,” said Farmer.