Dina Persico, who is a lesbian, says school administrators repeatedly told her to be more feminine, and at one point even barred her from using the restroom.
Marilyn Drew Necci | February 8, 2019
A former Chesterfield County schoolteacher has filed suit against Chesterfield County Public Schools, alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and disability. Dina Persico, who taught civics-related subjects at multiple Chesterfield County schools, says she was repeatedly told to be more feminine by school administrators.
“Flamboyant was a favorite term of theirs,” she said, speaking to WRIC. “‘Your appearance is too flamboyant, you’re arm movements are too flamboyant,’ it’s said with intent and that intent is to say that you’re gay.”
Persico’s problems started a few years ago, when she was teaching at Chesterfield’s Percival Middle School. She says things were OK at first — that is, until the school’s principal found out that she was a lesbian, and married to fellow teacher Erin Guthe. That’s when the administrative harassment started, according to Persico. She says it got worse when she transferred to Midlothian High School.
“It was suggested that if I seemed more feminine, I would be less intimidating as a person,” Persico told WRIC, saying that her principal also specifically told her to wear more feminine clothing. ”‘If you just throw a skirt on once in a while, we wouldn’t have any of these problems,’” she described him as saying.
Worse yet, Persico relates, her principal once stopped her from using the women’s restroom. “I went to put my hand on the door and he actually blocked me and was like, ‘no, that’s really not appropriate, you going in there with all the, you know, young female students,’” she told WRIC. “It was an assault on my person, and then it was like your basic human dignity, I just need to use the restroom. That’s all I need to do.”
This is, of course, a classic example of the anti-LGBTQ stereotype that claims gay people (and trans women) are inherently predatory, especially toward children.
Persico’s wife, Erin Guthe, corroborated her reports of the harassment she received. “I was actually in the meeting where the assistant principal told her to change her hairstyle,” Guthe told WRIC. “It’s very clear to me that my wife was discriminated against because of the way that she expresses her gender… I think I and women like me are given more of a pass because we appear more feminine.”
Persico experienced a mini-stroke in 2017, which her doctor attributed to job-related stress, She was advised not to return to her job due to the stress, but chose to do so anyway once she was medically cleared. Later in 2017, Persico attempted to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about her treatment, but, according to the lawsuit, she “was told by the EEOC intake person (wrongly) that she could only file based on disability discrimination, and not sex discrimination based on her sex, sexual orientation and non-gender conforming appearance.”
Persico, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is suing for discrimination on the basis of disability under provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. However, the discrimination she alleges on the basis of sex and sex discrimination is, the lawsuit states, covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There has been a lot of controversy in recent years — specifically since Donald Trump took office — around the way Title VII is interpreted by the Justice Department. While Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder’s office interpreted it to cover any discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, Trump’s administration has worked hard to shut this interpretation down, holding to a much stricter interpretation of Title VII’s prohibition of “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
Therefore, whether Persico’s case can ultimately proceed forward under Title VII is at least somewhat in doubt. The attempts to redefine the provisions of the Civil Rights Act to exclude transgender people have gotten more press, but there have been attempts to change Justice’s interpretation of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The hope on the part of some Republicans and anti-LGBTQ conservatives is clearly that the DOJ will declare discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation legal. Which would be a strong blow against Persico’s case.
Regardless, Persico’s story certainly sounds to us like a clear-cut case of discrimination by Chesterfield County Public Schools. This comes only months after we learned about the case of Emily Powers, a Chesterfield County teacher whose contract was ended due to their telling a student they were gay — a story we reported on in our Fall Pride Guide.
So… what exactly is going on in Chesterfield County’s public school system? We’re certainly paying attention to the situation. If you know of any similar incidents of discrimination, please email GayRVA – we want to hear from you.
Photo via Midlo Scoop