Barret breaks boundaries: Board member speaks about her journey


Gabby North

Liz Barret talks to students during PREP.

by Caroline Hobson and Gabby North

Frederick County Board of Education member Liz Barret came PREP to talk to the students about relationships, unexpected mentors, and how the people that came into her life helped her become the woman that she is today. The main points that she touched on throughout her presentation included not fitting in, being yourself, and taking risks in high school. 

Barret was elected to the Board of Education in November 2014 to serve a four-year term December 2014–2018 and re-elected to serve December 2018-2022. The Board then elected Barrett as its Vice President from December 2014-2017.

Barret is engaged in social and equality issues, particularly poverty and homelessness issues as well as being LGBTQ+ advocate in Frederick County. She wants to let teens know that they aren’t alone. 

“I graduated from FCPS in 1994; I remember not ever knowing or seeing any LGBTQ+ adults who were “out.” I’m so glad our school system is changing. My job is to be a voice and advocate for every student, family, staff and teachers. Anyone who faces any sorts of challenges can get tired or they can get more tenacious – I like to be the most tenacious advocate for our students, staff, and teachers I can. It’s a true honor and a huge responsibility to serve the citizens of Frederick County,” said Barret.

Feeling like you don’t fit in is a normal part of high school. Teens often feel alone and isolated due to the pressures of school, social media, and changing relationships. 

Linganore’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) has grown significantly over the years to give students in the community a safe space to express their feelings and meet new people. This GSA is the largest in the county and continues to grow. The advisors are Samantha Karstens and Jessica Baker and the club has been going strong for about seven years. 

“I feel like it’s hard to put my experience in good or bad. Linganore feels like an extremely divided place, half the school being liberal leaning, and the other half being conservative leaning. Even those lines weren’t so distinct though. Someone on the football team could compliment my suit and on the same day a theatre kid would call me a slur. I used to think about LHS in terms of these two populations, one that was cool with my gender and one that wasn’t but it’s hard to tell with most people,” said 2019 graduate Beau Cameron. He was a member of the GSA.

Frederick County has taken steps in the right direction to inclusivity. In 2019, FCPS implemented Policy 443 at all schools. “The purpose of this policy is to prevent discrimination, stigmatization, harassment, and bullying of students that are transgender or non-binary in schools,” Stated in policy 443. This policy allows for students that are trangender or non-binary to be called by their prefered pronouns. 

Students and teachers of FCPS must follow this rule to help students feel more comfortable at school and to help diminish bullying of students in the LGBTQ+ community.

Barret pushed for this policy to be passed because Barret herself is part of the LGBTQ+ community and growing up she often felt isolated for being different. But this policy being passed allowed for inclusion of all. 

You are loved – I promise. Look for a connection – a guidance counselor, friends in GSA or another club or organization, a parent, friend, or a teacher.

— Liz Barret

“Our Board is proud of Policy 443 – Welcoming Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming students. Trans, non-binary and many LGBTQIA+ students and allies delivered compelling testimony. I chaired the Board of Education’s Policy Committee and used resources from GLSEN to draft a starting policy, and we received public comment on that policy for several months before it was finalized and voted upon by the Board of Education. The Policy is important because it changes the conversation from “tolerance” to one of welcome and affirmation for everyone.” said Barret. 

Barret has spent a great deal of time going out and listening to parents and students. She tries to give a voice to others that don’t have one. She advocates for equality with all students to change FCPS to be a more accepting community for all. 

Barret hopes to be part of a new wave of changes in FCPS guidelines. “Broadly, I am interested in looking closely at achievement and school climate and resources for our students who are neurodiverse. The variety of needs of students who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, have ADHD or other neurological diversity are often left out when we have conversations about instruction, class size, how we construct new schools, and programming.” 

Starting the conversation at the heart of these board meetings allows for change. More people will see, and hear about these issues and give their opinions on them. Barret is aiming to raise awareness at the board meetings not only about LGBTQ+ issues but about other issues impacting students in FCPS schools.

She was prompted to speak about relationships because Barret feels that all of her human experience is built on relationships, people that you meet along the way and people that are in your life since day one. She wanted students to know that by forming relationships in high school they will feel less alone in a cruel high school world. 

Frederick County schools are changing for the better to accommodate students of the LGBTQ+ community. Students are bettering their relationships and finding new friends thanks to the GSA and supportive FCPS workers like Liz Barret who are pushing for equality for all.