Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, participated in a televised CNN town hall event Thursday evening, where he sought to explain his stance on several controversial policies his administration has enacted under the guise of parental rights. However, when he came face to face with a transgender Virginia student who asked about his ability to exist in school, Youngkin had no answers.
According to the governor's guidelines released last fall, transgender students in the state would have to use school facilities and participate in programs corresponding to their assigned gender at birth. Under the policies, it would also be more difficult for students to change their names and gender at school.
But the multimillionaire businessman who styles himself as a vest-wearing aww shucks relatable former college basketball player could not answer one invited audience member’s simple query.
“Look at me,” Niko, a 17-year-old Arlington student, said when he had his opportunity to ask Youngkin a question.
“I am a transgender man,” he said. “Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?”
Youngkin did not address the question directly, instead pivoting to his belief that extra bathrooms are needed in schools generally.
According to Youngkin, schools should “try very hard to accommodate students.”
Youngkin proposed adding more bathrooms to school buildings.
“We need gender-neutral bathrooms so people can use a bathroom that they, in fact, are comfortable with,” he said without answering Niko’s question.
According to Youngkin, it is not controversial for transgender athletes to be banned from participating in sports that reflect their identity.
“I don’t think that biological boys should be playing sports with biological girls,” he said to the transgender teen, adding, “I think that’s pretty, that’s noncontroversial, and something that I think is pretty well understood.”
The campaign director at the Human Rights Campaign, Geoff Wetrosky, criticized Youngkin’s performance.
“Tonight, Glenn Youngkin once again claimed that he believes that ‘parents matter.’ In reality, he only cares about some parents. He does not care about parents of LGBTQ+ – particularly transgender – students, who have been consistently under attack in Virginia and across the country,” Wetrosky said in a statement.
“[Youngkin] said that there is no room for bullying or harassment in Virginia’s schools, but his own policies only further marginalize and isolate transgender students, creating more stigma and more discrimination against an already vulnerable population,” Wetrosky added. “His extremist, anti-LGBTQ+ positions should have no place in Virginia or this country.”
An Augusta County social science teacher, Brock Barnes, asked Youngkin how critical race theory differs from teaching about historical injustices like slavery.
His first act as governor was to ban “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory,” from being taught in public schools. The governor, who is rumored to run for president in 2024, has continued to emphasize education and “parents’ rights” since winning the election in 2021.
Youngkin had falsely claimed to Virginians that teachers were secretly teaching critical race theory and instructing white kids to feel ashamed of themselves for the country’s history of slavery.
Youngkin responded by using a right-wing “both-sides” device to muddy the waters. He insisted that it’s vital for students to learn “all of our history – the good and the bad.”
But, he said that “what had crept into our systems were divisive concepts … that had curriculum and materials that were forcing our children to judge one another.”
Schools in the United States don’t teach CRT concepts to their students. However, critical race theory, as a concept, is taught in some colleges and many law schools as a framework through which one validates the Black experience by acknowledging the influence of systemic racism on daily life.
Youngkin made a subtle change in his rhetoric surrounding the GOP CRT bogeyman.
“CRT isn’t a class that’s taught. It’s a philosophy that’s incorporated in the curriculum,” Youngkin said.
“The key point is how we teach it,” he added. “We need to teach it honestly and transparently, but we shouldn’t teach it with judgment.”