ARLINGTON, Va. — Students at nearly 100 Virginia middle and high schools on Tuesday planned to walk out in protest of the state’s reversal of transgender protections that put decisions on students’ identities and preferred names at school exclusively in the hands of their parents.
What’s in the policy: The guidelines, released Sept. 16 by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, require students to use restrooms, pronouns and names based on their official school record. It limits sports teams to gender assigned at birth, and it tightens parental notification requirements.
The bigger picture: The walkouts are part of greater nationwide youth pushback to an uptick in anti-LGBTQ policies in schools, including Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill” and bans in 18 states against transgender athletes from participating in sports that match their gender identity.
More coverage on LGBTQ youth:
What does Youngkin’s education policy reverse?
Last year, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration instituted model policies that protected transgender and other LGBTQ students at school. The guidelines released this month, called The 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students in Virginia’s Public School, revises those Department of Education guidelines.
Under the new policy:
- Students should be referred to by the name and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves the use of an alternative.
- Schools may separate sports teams on the basis of sex assigned at birth and are not required to allow students of one sex to participate on sports teams reserved for members of another sex.
- Students must now file legal documents if they wish to be called by different pronouns.
- Schools may not encourage teachers to conceal information about a student’s gender from their parents.
The policy acknowledges that “every effort should be made to ensure that a transgender student wishing to change his or her means of address is treated with respect, compassion and dignity,” but ultimately requires a guardian sign off on the change, presenting challenges for students with non-LGBTQ-affirming parents.
A 30-day public comment period opened Monday and has already collected more than 16,000 responses. The state school board will not vote on the model policy but the Superintendent of Public Instruction may amend the final draft based on comments, state department of education spokesman Charles Pyle told Education Week.
How have people reacted?
School response: Multiple school boards have suggested they may resist and push back on the policies, including Alexandria City Public Schools and Falls Church City Public Schools, the Washington Post reported.
What Youngkin says: Youngkin spokesman Macaulay Porter said in a statement that the updated policy “delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students.”
Youngkin also joined several states in suing the Biden administration for requiring schools to update policies and signage as well as investigate discrimination allegations involving sexual orientation and gender identity in order to qualify for federal school lunch funding.
Impact on transgender students
Students and parents who’ve spoken out against the guidelines say the changes put LGBTQ youth in danger because it bans they/them pronouns and allows students to be deadnamed or misgendered.
Casey Calabia, a 17-year-old senior at McLean High School, said their biggest concern was a change permitting schools to out students as transgender to their parents without their permission. Calabia is an organizer with the student-led group that’s leading the walkouts, Pride Liberation Project.
“I know people personally who are out at school but not out at home,” Calabia told USA TODAY. “If they got outed through this transgender model policy, it would absolutely ruin their lives. They do not have supportive households.”
Nationwide: A look at other efforts
The Biden administration is currently reviewing comments to its proposed revisions to Title IX regulations, which include codifying protections for transgender and nonbinary students under nondiscrimination categories.
But LGBTQ and survivor advocate groups have also pushed back on the Department of Education for neglecting to address guidelines on transgender and nonbinary student participation in gender-specific sports teams in the revised regulations. Federal Education Department officials have said they plan to propose separate rules on the topic, but have not yet released a timeline for doing so.
The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida that passed in March was the most high-profile example of legislation targeting LGBTQ youth in the United States. It limited speech on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classrooms. Bills in other states also restrict transgender student participation in gender-specific sports teams and require parental permission for student participation in LGBTQ extra-curriculars.
Contributing: Kayla Jimenez and Chris Quintana, USA TODAY