Thousands of students across Virginia protested this week, walking out of their classrooms and schools to demonstrate their opposition to policy changes being proposed by the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) toward transgender youth in the state.
Youngkin’s state Department of Education issued new model policies last Friday to “provide clear, accurate, and useful guidance to Virginia school boards that align with statutory provisions.” The new document takes a “parental rights” approach when it comes to transgender youth in schools, encouraging districts to enact rules that discriminate against and potentially endanger LGBTQ children.
The new policies say that transgender students participating in public school activities, such as sports, should only be involved in programs that correspond to the gender assigned to them at birth. It advocates a similar policy for the restrooms or locker rooms transgender students should use, prohibiting trans children from using facilities that match their gender identities.
The policy changes by Youngkin’s state Department of Education also say that schools should require students under the age of 18 to be addressed by the name and pronouns stated in official government records, and that students’ preferences to be called another name should not happen without parental consent — an action that could be harmful to children in households with unaccepting parents.
The guidance isn’t yet in effect but will be once a 30-day public comment period closes next month. After that, schools will be required to adopt policies “consistent with” the state’s model policies.
After news of the policy changes came on Friday, students organized to walk out of classrooms this week to protest against the Youngkin administration’s actions. Thousands of students across more than 100 schools took part in the demonstrations across the state on Tuesday.
Social media posts showcased students appearing outside their schools, with many chanting “trans lives matter,” while holding signs in opposition to the changes.
“We decided to hold these walkouts as kind of a way to … disrupt schools and essentially have students be aware of what’s going on,” said Natasha Sanghvi, a high school senior in northern Virginia who helped organize the walkouts, speaking to The Associated Press.
“Trans students are students just like everybody else,” said Ranger Balleisen, a transgender senior at a high school in Fairfax County, who also helped organize the demonstrations. “We don’t want to be out here fighting for our rights and protesting — we want to be in calculus class and learning how to drive. But, instead, we have to be here, because they’re trying to take away our rights.”
Per an analysis from Blue Virginia, a progressive news site in the state, thousands of individuals submitting comments to a state website over the model policy changes show that most are “overwhelmingly opposed” to Youngkin’s proposals.
“I do not support Governor Youngkin’s new guidelines that constrain the identity and impose restrictions on the activities of transgender students in public schools, as I believe that the civil rights of all students should be respected,” said a person identifying themselves as a teacher in the state. “Public schools should be an inviting place for all members of the public, not a place where students have to cower in shame or fear.”
Another person who submitted public comment, who called themselves a “Central Virginia Therapist,” warned of the dangers the new policies would bring, paying particular attention to the outing of trans students to parents.
“Parents should want to be involved,” the commenter said. “However, there are some children who will be outed to parents who are not able to support those children in a healthy manner. Not only will those parents not support their child’s choices, gender identity, or sexual orientation, they will not accept their child’s orientation or identity, they will react in an unhealthy and unhelpful manner that alienates their child, harms their relationship with their child, and increases the risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide.”
Misgendering young trans individuals can indeed cause mental harm and anguish to people who are already facing the highest rates of depression and suicide among any other social group. Studies have found, however, that proper usage of a person’s gender pronouns, as well as using names they’ve come up with to reflect their genders, can be incredibly beneficial, and reduce those risks. One study, for example, showed that a person’s risk of suicide was cut in half for each instance their pronouns were used correctly. Another study demonstrated that trans children who are given support don’t show elevated signs of depression symptoms compared to the broader trans youth population.
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