Robert Rigby

Robert Rigby

As an out gay teacher, Robert Rigby has made a name for himself nationally as an advocate for the rights of LGBT+ students and teachers in Fairfax County.  He has been instrumental in getting protections in place for LGBT students and staff in his district.  As President of the Fairfax County Public Schools Pride and a Latin teacher at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Robert has become a key organizer in galvanizing support among many interested constituencies in the fight for stronger protections for the LGBT+ student population in Fairfax County and beyond.  His work has led to better informed and equipped teachers, school staff, and community at large.

After growing up in Florida, Robert received his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth and later a Master in Education from Virginia Commonwealth University.  After stints teaching in central Virginia and New England, he began working for Fairfax County Public Schools in 1999; he was asked by a colleague to assume sponsorship of his school’s LGBT student group. At that time, there was only one Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in Fairfax country, and it required students to get parent’s permission to participate. He contacted the superintendent and a legal team and worked with the superintendent over nine months to change the policy so that such groups were treated equally. Along with others he then founded a DC-area GLSEN (a national education organization creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools) chapter that has since morphed into a GLSEN Northern Virginia.  Shortly thereafter GSAs began springing up across Fairfax.

He not only worked to raise the awareness and protection of marginalized students within the public school system but also extended his outreach to teachers.  This culminated in the creation of FCPS Pride, an official allied and LGBT countywide group that provides support to LGBT+ teachers; the employees have been joined in membership by many parents of LGBT students.  FCPS Pride “envisions a school system in which no one is discriminated against according to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/gender expression.”

Due in part to Robert’s efforts, there has been positive change to the LGBT+ discussion in the county, which has become more supportive and understanding of groups who had little to no representation before. In 2014-2015 sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the non-discrimination policy affecting staff and students, and the anti-bullying regulations. Robert hopes to see this trend continue, especially with FCPS developing detailed regulations for transgender students. Recently, Robert also coordinated a grassroots movement involving Equality Virginia, TGEA, PFLAG, GLSEN, NOVA Pride, the FEA and FCPS Pride to advocate for LGBT+ students, staff, and faculty within the FCPS school district. He continues as co-sponsor of what is now called the Gender identity and Sexual Orientation Alliance at West Potomac.

Robert is honored to be an OUTstanding Virginian this year and looks to a future where students at all levels across the state can attend a school where they are valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He believes that Virginia can operate under an educational system where all students have a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.