Virginia's governor has stripped transgender public school kids in the state of fundamental rights to dignity and belonging. Under new policies by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia will no longer allow transgender students to use facilities marked by their gender identity in schools, a move that critics say is inhumane.
The Virginia Department of Education released several guidelines on Friday that reversed policies it had outlined the previous year regarding transgender students' rights.
Students must now file legal documents to change their pronouns if they wish.
Teachers must also out their students to their students' parents to give parents more power over their children's place in society, in line with Youngkin's claim that parents need more control over their children's education.
The so-called Model Policies state that teachers must "keep parents fully informed about all matters" related to a child's development, and schools can't "encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student's parent, including information related to gender."
While Youngkin claims that the policies enable parents to control what their children learn in school, a school employee will not be required to address or refer to a student "in any manner" that would conflict with that employee's personal or religious beliefs.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education tells The Advocate that the new policy is just designed to confuse people and that the result will be undermining classroom instruction.
"[The policy's] fine print requires compliance with federal law in every instance -- and the federal courts have already confirmed, specifically in a case involving Virginia schools -- that the United States Constitution and Title IX protect transgender students from school bathroom policies that prohibit them from affirming their gender identity," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Virginia's proposed policy does not, as it legally could not, direct Virginia schools to discriminate against transgender students where prohibited by federal law."
Several states have passed legislation restricting transgender children's rights and protections at school in the past two years, most notably Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has been particularly hostile toward the LGBTQ+ community. DeSantis and Youngkin seem to be trying to outdo the other's extremism as they jockey for positions in a potential presidential field for 2024.
"Governor Glenn Youngkin's new anti-LGBTQ+ policies attacking the rights of transgender students living in Virginia is yet another example of an extremist politician using anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies to rile up their base," said Human Rights Campaign legislative counsel Courtnay Avant. "As a candidate and governor, Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly used his platform to promote anti-equality and anti-choice policies that are out of step with the views of everyday Virginians - and this new guidance is no exception. These policies blatantly stigmatize and isolate our most vulnerable children and place their lives at risk. The Human Rights Campaign will fight alongside our members and partners to ensure that transgender students in Virginia are given the same rights are their peers."
Supporters of LGBTQ+ people received Friday's announcement poorly, remarkably because it reversed policies enacted just last year by Youngkin's Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam.
In Northam's administration, transgender students could use facilities, pronouns, and names that reflected their gender identity rather than their gender assigned at birth. In 2020, Virginia lawmakers passed a law requiring the state's education department to develop Model Policies to create "a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students."
Now Youngkin is taking Northam's plan to protect LGBTQ+ students and is using it to harm them instead in the name of "anti-wokeness," advocates say.
Despite Virginia having voted for back-to-back Democrats before Youngkin, and even though Virginians voted for Biden in the 2020 election, Youngkin got elected in 2021 because he was able to convince voters that Democrats were trying to brainwash white Virginia kids with CRT, or critical race theory -- a school of thought used to examine power structures through the lens of race and identity -- which was not actually happening.
At the time, those who voted for Youngkin believed that he was a moderate and, having tried to keep away from former president Donald Trump, Youngkin embraced the cover.
Now the Republican who tried to paint himself as not Trump-like has taken positions that align with the Ultra-MAGA mindset.
Youngkin recently indicated that he wanted to enact a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia, and he is expected to stump for one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ candidates on any state's ballot this year, Kari Lake, who is running for governor in Arizona, next month, Politicoreports.
Equality Virginia tweeted about Youngkin putting LGBTQ+ kids in harm's way.
"By outing LGBTQ+ students who have not had conversations with their parent, Youngkin and his Dept. of Ed are willing to subject LGBTQ+ students to abuse," the group tweeted.
The ACLU of Virginia said the new policies would increase rates of self-harm and suicide in LGBTQ+ students.
"We are appalled by the Youngkin administration's overhaul of key protections for transgender students in public schools," the group tweeted.
GLSEN chief of staff and deputy executive director for public policy and research Aaron Ridings called Youngkin's new policy reprehensible.
"It is heartbreaking to witness politically-motivated attempts to compel teachers to violate students' privacy, disrespect their autonomy, and put them in harm's way," they said. "Sadly, we know this is part of a larger coordinated political effort by anti-LGBTQ+ extremists ahead of the midterm elections in November. We need our leaders in government and in schools to foster supportive environments, now more than ever, to prohibit victimization, bullying, or harassment. Virginia is turning back the clock on progress when we should instead be developing supportive educators, expanding inclusive curriculum, enforcing comprehensive nondiscrimination policies, and supporting Gender and Sexuality Alliances. As our young queer and trans people struggle with the current wave of assaults on their education and mental health, we must rise up and demand bolder action for equity in our schools."
Youngkin's spokesperson Macaulay Porter sent The Advocate a statement in response to a request for comment late Monday.
"The 2022 model policy posted delivers on the governor's commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students," she wrote. "It is not under a school's or the government's purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students. Key decisions rest, first and foremost, with the parents. The previous policies implemented under the Northam Administration did not uphold constitutional principles and parental rights, and will be replaced."
She indicated that the public comment period will open on September 26 and will close after 30 days, at which point Virginia's education department will review the comments and new guidance will become effective "following approval of a final version by the state superintendent."
This article was updated to reflect comments from Gov. Youngkin's spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, that The Advocate received after publication time.