By NEESEY PAYNE
In society the words “sex” and “gender” are found to be synonymous, but is that truly the case?
At a recent school board meeting, board member Joe Guthrie questioned “insertions of language” in the Virginia School Boards Association’s (VSBA) policy updates regarding equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination, the main one being the addition of the word “sex” when “gender” is already included.
With the recommended updates inserted, a portion of the policy states, “… Discrimination in employment against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, political affiliation, sex, gender, age, marital status, genetic information or disability is prohibited.”
“I’m wondering who is covered by sex that isn’t covered by gender and why (the use of both words). I find (sex and gender) to be interchangeable,” said Guthrie.
Dr. Gregory Brown, assistant superintendent for leadership, policy and student services, said he participated in a conference call with Elizabeth Ewing, staff attorney and director of legal and policy services for the VSBA. According to Brown, Ewing explained updates to the policy haven’t been made since 2002. Over this span of time, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have become “very active to the point that the OCR has developed a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter format.”
In an interview, Brown explained the letters are shared correspondences regarding the interpretation of a law or policy.
Brown explained before the board that the letters guide the OCR in determining the way it “deals with various discrimination issues … brought to the OCR’s attention.” He said Ewing explained the legal council with VSBA has received these “Dear Colleague” letters over the past few years and believes it should incorporate these “Dear Colleague” letters into the school system’s policy. “It’s proactive on (the VSBA’s) part,” Brown said.
“You said it hasn’t been changed since 2002, as far as I know there were two genders then and two genders now,” said Guthrie. “I’m just a little bit puzzled as to if there is something more beyond the (the term) ‘gender’ that we’re getting at by inserting (the term ‘sex’). If so, I would like to know what it is before we approve it.”
According to the American Psychological Association, “Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female or intersex. Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.”
Guthrie also questioned the addition of the word “ancestry,” as well – saying he didn’t “see where ancestry covers someone who is not already covered by race or national origin.”
Barbour responded saying, “A group of people can have the same national origin who also have different ancestries.”
Brown said he would get clarification for Guthrie on the addition of “sex” and “ancestry” in the policy update. Action is expected to be taken on updates to the policy at the next school board meeting to be held Thursday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m., at the Central Office in downtown Pulaski.