As Virginia public schools prepare to start welcoming students again in the next few weeks, transgender and non-binary children and their families are anxiously awaiting to find out if their schools will adopt new statewide policies aimed at them.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration announced last month that it had established guidelines that each county could implement in its schools. Under guidelines created by the state Department of Education, trans children would not be allowed to use the toilet that matches their gender identity, and students would need to get their parents’ permission to use a name or pronoun not listed on their official school records.
For nearly a year, the Youngkin administration pondered these policies and made small adjustments, prompting nationwide student strikes. First, the State Ministry of Education delayed Implementation of the guidelines during the review They collected 70,000 public comments on-line.
The new guidelines are officially in effect, but counties will face no consequences if they don’t enforce them in their schools. Uncertainty over which counties will adopt Youngkin’s guidelines is wreaking havoc among students in the days leading up to their return to school.
“I know people are scared and scared, but that’s ultimately the goal,” Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy group, told HuffPost. “We now have many children who cannot enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation because they wonder if they will be verbally abused, abused or bullied at school.”
The guidelines represent a complete reversal of those introduced by former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in 2021. This recommended that teachers use the correct pronouns for transgender students and also allowed children to use the toilet according to their gender identity. Much like they can now with Youngkin’s policies, school districts could waive the policy.
Many counties are letting their school boards vote on whether to implement the new guidelines after hearing from community members.
During a gathering last week in deep red Roanoke County, people called out in support of LGBTQ+ children, and all 27 attendees who made public comment condemned the new guidelines. Two people were arrested and charged with trespassing When they disrupted the meeting and refused to leave, one of them shouted “Protect trans children!” while being handcuffed by police.
“If a transgender student or a non-binary student would have been given permission by their parents to change their pronouns or name, and a teacher chooses to use a name or pronoun that we call dead because he doesn’t respect the child’s identity, that’s a humiliation for me. “said Decca Knight, according to local CBS affiliate WDBJ7. A LinkedIn profile identifies Knight as a former school counselor in Roanoke County.
“That’s the definition of bullying and it will undoubtedly harm this student,” she added.
Officials in Loudoun County, a swing county in a swing state, are ready to do just that argue the new guidelines at a school board meeting next week. At least one board member has publicly expressed support for a provision that encourages, but does not require, teachers to inform parents that their child is using other pronouns in school unless the student is at risk from suicidal thoughts.
“Leaving parents in the dark when it comes to their children’s mental health is unethical, when it comes to their children’s well-being, when it comes to their education,” wrote board member Tiffany Polifko in an email to the Loudoun Times mirror.
But for students who have not yet come out with their parents, this could prove dangerous. “[These policies] “Forbid school districts to protect transgender students from going to their parents’ house before they are ready, and it may not be safe at home,” said Wyatt Rolla, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia . said WDBJ7.
Some large counties across the state have decided not to hold a board vote, instead already voting strongly against the new guidelines.
Francisco Durán, the superintendent of Arlington Public Schools — an independent school district just across the Washington, DC border — issued a statement a long statement about his schools commitment to equality.
“I reiterate our unwavering support for our LGBTQIA+ students, staff and community,” said Durán wrote, referring to LGBTQ+, intersex and asexual people.
“I want our transgender, non-binary and gender fluid students to hear loud and clear that you belong here, that you are valued and that we stand by your side and support you.””
Fairfax County Public Schools — the state’s largest school district, 20 miles from Washington — issued a similar statement.
“I want to make it clear that FCPS remains committed to an inclusive and affirmative learning environment for each and every student and staff member, including those who are transgender or gender biased,” said Superintendent Michelle Reid called. “Our schools will continue to be safe, welcoming and respectful learning spaces.”
Virginia’s new policy comes at a time when Republicans are waging war on transgender youth and public schools nationwide. Nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced into state legislatures in 2023 so far, and in red states, policies to transform public schools are increasing.
Youngkin won his 2021 gubernatorial election by campaigning for “parental rights,” a catchphrase used by conservatives to restrict teachers’ freedom of speech in classrooms, ban access to certain books in libraries, and limit the rights of LGBTQ+ children during this time mean at school.
“This is all part of the governor’s plans to undermine public education here in Virginia,” Rahaman told HuffPost. “And he chooses to do this on the back of trans youth.”
She added: “Allowing teachers to abuse and mistreat students, outing students to potentially unsupportive parents? It’s all bullying.”
Virginians as a whole seem to disagree with policies targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Any anti-trans policy recently introduced in the legislature, including one that barred trans youth from school sports teams who conform to their gender identity, failed.
“We have a majority of people who are vehemently opposed because they understand the harm,” Rahaman said. “The people who are advocating for this are a small group of people. Just because they’re the loudest doesn’t mean they’re right.”