It was probably predestined that Sally Baird would become Virginia’s first openly lesbian elected official. Sally, who has served on the Arlington School Board since 2006, was born into politics. Her father, an Akron, Ohio City Councilman, took her to meetings in a bassinet, which he put in the middle of the table. “We used to pass you around,” her father’s colleagues told her later. By the time she was in second grade, Sally knocked on doors to support his campaigns for elected judgeships, stuffed envelopes with the whole family, and attended every ethnic- themed festival in the city. “I thought all kids did these things,” she says.
Her father’s life in politics and the judiciary did more than define her schedule. He talked openly with her about moral decisions and provided powerful examples of ethical behavior, for example when he—a Republican—made key appointments across party lines to fill openings with the best people for the job. “He taught me that politics doesn’t matter as much as doing what’s right,” she says.
When she moved to Virginia in the late 1980s, Sally felt that the atmosphere around LGBT issues did not favor her entry into politics. So she channeled her activism in a number of community groups, most particularly the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Sally served on the AGLA Board in a number of community outreach roles, including vice president, during the 1990s. Then came the decision to have children.
“Children do change one’s life quite substantially,” Sally says, and one of the changes for her was an increasing involvement in critical education issues. She became involved with the work of the Arlington Public Schools’ Early Childhood Advisory Committee, ultimately serving as co-chair. As her children reached school age, she added PTA leadership roles to her resume.
In early 2006, Sally found herself presented with the opportunity to run for a seat on the Arlington School Board. Although some advised her to refrain for the sake of her kids, she remembered how her father’s campaigns had energized her and introduced her to a wider community at an early age. She took the plunge, and, as she explains, “thanks to a wonderful network of progressive and supportive Arlingtonians, the possibility of being both lesbian and an elected official no longer seemed to be an impossibility.”
Since joining the Arlington School Board, Sally has championed a number of issues, including strengthening early childhood education, ensuring that all students have the tools and support they need, and developing a strategically-focused facilities planning model for a district growing by 3-5 percent a year. She has also led Board efforts to revise anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to ensure a safe and supportive environment not only for Arlington’s LGBT students, staff, and parents, but for everyone.
For her two sons, Ryan (11) and Adam (9), participating in their mother’s campaigns expanded their world in the same way as hers had been expanded. Ryan proudly kept a running tally of all the schools he’d visited. Along the way, Sally finds time to talk with her boys about politics, values, and diversity. “I share with them what my dad shared with me,” she says. And with similar results: her sons are quick to identify education and equity issues in their own daily lives and far beyond the doors of their classrooms.
As a lesbian parent in Virginia, Sally has sadly watched some fellow GLBT parents move away from Virginia in order to raise their children in a more supportive environment, both legally and socially. But, as she looks forward to continuing her service as an elected school leader, she remains proud of her Arlington community and is dedicated to ensuring that the Virginia of tomorrow is a destination that LGBT parents will seek as a place to raise their children.
Her confidence in that vision of the future is bolstered by attitudes she observes among her sons’ peer group in the highly diverse Arlington schools. She tells of how a boy asked Ryan about his father and Ryan said he had two moms and they were lesbians. “Did you ever have a dad?” asked the other boy. “No, I have a donor,” said Ryan. Hearing the story for the first time, Sally braced herself for a bad or at least confusing outcome. But the other boy said, “So do I” and described his home with a single straight mom. Considering the ease with which her sons and his contemporaries talk about their lives without trepidation or censure (even the kids from socially conservative families), Sally expects a bright future for student-led GSAs and anti-bullying efforts. “I have a lot of faith in kids,” she says.