Virginia Governor seeks to limit protection to transgender students


AP | Matthew Barakat

High school students in McLean, Va., staged a walk out on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 after Gov. Youngkin’s proposed changes, students all over the state are protesting.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin rewrote Virginia’s model policies, targeting transgender students.

The policy, which offers guidance and instructions for handling tasks, operations and actions concerning students’ privacy and dignity, now mandates using educational property such as bathrooms and locker rooms based on students’ legal sex.

The state Department of Education (DOE) revised the prior policy claims presented under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. Under Northam’s guidelines, schools were required to identify students consistent with their gender identity and safeguard students’ privacy and confidentiality of sensitive information.

Anti-trans legislation has significantly increased over the past year, with 13 bills passing in 2021. The bulk of these bills has sought to constrict trans athletes’ ability to participate on sports teams and ban affirmative health care for transitioning youth. 

The foundation for Youngkin’s reversal can be seen throughout his campaign assurances, most notably promising parents a say in their children’s education. Highlighted throughout the 20-page policy document is adherence to this promise.

“Schools shall keep parents informed about their children’s well-being,” the policy reads.

Yet, this close relationship between the school system and parents has sparked controversy, especially regarding remodeled DOE treatment of transgender students. 

Now that the new policy lets parents dictate what pronouns schools should use for students and whether or not children can begin gender transition, many individuals fear the potential harm this will have on transgender students. 

Furthermore, the policies define transgender individuals as “a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex.”

“Trans people know what their sex/gender is and that doesn’t match up with cisgendered people’s fantasy,” said DePaul associate professor Paige Treebridge.

Stereotypes such as deeming transgender individuals as confused or misleading have been linked with strengthening prejudices and discrimination.

“It is not, ‘These are some children who decided to be something and now the government won’t recognize them,’” Treebridge said. “Trans children will be trans whether or not they’re recognized at school.”

DePaul political science professor Susan Burgess believes Youngkin’s decision resides within his political ambitions. 

“He had a lot of success running for governor on a similar kind of issue of keeping critical race theory out of schools, and he justified that by saying that was a parents’ right issue,” Burgess said. “He has presidential ambitions and was probably trying to distinguish himself from others in the Republican field.”

While Youngkin has not yet announced his presidential bid, the governor’s approval rating has risen from 53% to 55%, according to a poll conducted by Roanoke College.

“I think it’s really challenging the LGBTQ community,” Burgess said. “I think partly he’s doing it for his approval rating. Part of the Republican playbook right now is finding a vulnerable community to beat up on.”

Roughly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed in 2022, with over half of them targeting trans individuals. From sanctioning religious exemptions to discriminating against gay and trans individuals to forcing trans people to use public restrooms associated with their biological sex, advocates have deemed this year as one of the worst years for LGBT law-making attacks.

“The trans community has come a long way in terms of visibility and, to some extent, some recognition within the law, but there is still work to be done, and it is still a vulnerable community, so when things like this happen, it’s very jarring and really threatening,” Burgess said.

While the looming disruptions of the policies cannot be ignored, Community College of Philadelphia professor and transgender man Aiden James Kosciesza expresses the importance of understanding the restrictions society has always maintained on trans lives. 

“Those [legal and administrative] systems have not been made with trans people in mind, and therefore people who are trans are running into obstructions in their daily lives through those systems,” Kosciesza said. “Whether it’s to get a new ID made or having to jump through hoops to get medical care, all of these things are significant barriers in daily life.”

Anti-trans legislation has significantly increased over the past year, with 13 bills passing in 2021. The bulk of these bills has sought to constrict trans athletes’ ability to participate on sports teams and ban affirmative health care for transitioning youth. 

“It may seem like a small thing for someone who is cisgender, like pronouns might seem like a small thing for someone who is cisgender, or names might seem like a small thing, but that’s coming at it from a perspective of somebody who doesn’t deal with being called the wrong name or pronouns every minute of every day,” Kosciesza said. 

Additionally, the new policies hinder students’ ability to change their name or pronouns, requiring minors to be referred to per the information on their official record unless a parent gives their consent. 

“There are people who are scared of trans folks being near them or being around them, and I think that fear is not based on actual encounters with trans people,” Kosciesza said. 

Although the policies must go through a 30-day public comment period later this month, hundreds of students have already initiated walkouts and protests to show defiance and support for their trans peers.

However, since November 2021, over 37 states have proposed bills that restrict trans students’ abilities to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity. So far, 18 of those states have successfully turned the bills into laws, including Texas, Florida and Arizona, foreshadowing the future of limitations on transgender rights.