Virginia Department of Education Takes Away Protections for Trans and Queer Students

Information about the potential new guidelines affecting Virginian students, as well as commentary on the efficacy of walk-outs.


Brandon Portillo

Powerful message for inclusivity at the student-led walkout

A portrait of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkinn (Glenn Youngkin, PDM-owner, via Wikimedia Commons)

On September 16th,2022, Virginia’s governor Glenn Youngkinn, along with Virginia’s Department of Education, released  proposed new policies that will affect public schools in the state for the rest of the year. The official name of the document is “2022 Model policies on the privacy, dignity, and respect for all students and parents in Virginia’s public schools.” When hearing the name, one assumes that the new policies are positive and work towards ensuring the good treatment of ALL students, however, that is not the case. Upon further inspection, a lot of the policies are rooted in transphobia, justified in the name of keeping parents’ rights protected.

This was part of Youngkinn’s campaign that secured him the win earlier this year, appealing to Virginian parents by promising to safeguard their rights to make decisions for their children and having their beliefs respected by public schools. Under the new laws, teachers would be required to notify parents if a student wants to be called by a name other than their legal one, as well as reporting if they want to be called by different pronouns that do not correspond with their legal sex.

The following excerpts from the document highlights some of  the harmful policies:

  • “Schools shall defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children: Parents are in the best position to work with their children and, where appropriate, their children’s health care providers to determine (a) what names, nicknames, and/or pronouns, if any, shall be used for their child by teachers and school staff while their child is at school, (b) whether their child engages in any counseling or social transition at school that encourages a gender that differs from their child’s sex, or (c) whether their child expresses a gender that differs with their child’s sex while at school.” (bottom of page two)
  • “Schools may separate their sports teams on the basis of sex. Neither the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Title IX, nor the Virginia Human Rights Act require school divisions to allow students of one biological sex to participate on sports teams reserved for members of the other biological sex. Code of Virginia, § 22.1-23.3.A.1.” (top of page 10)

However, the document does state that schools must recognize a transgender student’s request to be called by different pronouns if their parents acknowledge, in writing, that they are aware of the request to change how the student wants to be addressed and they sincerely believe the decision will be beneficial. Schools can also allow it if the student is of legal age, eighteen.

LHS senior, Alannah Jarrell, showing support for lgbt students (Brandon Portillo)

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with keeping parents informed about their children’s life while at school, it is clear that in today’s society there are still many people who do not believe queer people deserve to be themselves openly. If queer students choose to not share that part of themselves with their parents, it is for a reason. Many people may not feel safe doing so and/or may not be ready, and no one should take away the right to make decisions for themselves from them. It is also very hypocritical to claim to protect all students, but willingly endanger the life of transgender students, and expose them to dangerous situations.

Virginian students were quick to mobilize and, within a couple of weeks of these new proposals being introduced, they organized walk-outs across the state to protest. This effect was felt in WJCC Public Schools, as students from all three high schools, Lafayatte, Jamestown, and Warhill, all walked out on on the same day to let their voices be heard. On a positive note, all the high schools had a great turnout and many students decided to step out of the classroom for fifteen minutes as a way to support the cause. On a less positive note, all the high schools had people that decided to walk out to get out of class, trash on the mission, and ridicule queer students and speakers.

LHS staff overseeing the student-led walkout. Staying neutral. (Brandon Portillo)

When I attended the walkout,  I was glad to see that many people were out there supporting human rights. However, as the time passed, it was noticeable that many students were against the cause and were yelling slurs and derogatory terms against trans people. Although there is power in numbers, I don’t think this type of activism is truly affective at a local level, but it does help send a message to a wider audience, a.k.a our state government.

Lafayette Senior Jaelyn Palmer attended the student-led walkout. “I decided to attend the walkout to support the rights of trans students,” she said, “as I think they are being wronged by the government, as well as gather to photos and interviews for my journalism class”. Lorelei Little– Junior at Lafayette — stated ” Mostly because, as long as you are not being a fool, and not disrespecting or hurting other people, I respect your beliefs. I respect other identities, and I have a lot of friends that are trans so this is important to them.”

As far as my personal opinion goes, I think that keeping students safe and providing a positive learning environment is more important than any other issue, especially with such personal matters. Trans students deserve to be in a space where their right to exist and present as themselves does not mean giving up part of their education. With the new policies, suicide rates among trans and queer youth could potentially sky rocket, and, with all due respect, I care more about the people of my community not turning into another statistic than I do about “parents rights”