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LGBTQ Groups Lock Horns With Youngkin Over Virginia’s New School Policies

By Jake Beardslee · July 19, 2023

Virginia's new school policies on treatment of transgender students, which limit bathroom access and pronouns, have drawn criticism from LGBTQ groups who argue they fail to protect trans youth.  Fry1989, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Virginia’s Department of Education recently finalized new model policies for the treatment of transgender and non-binary students in public schools. Some LGBTQ advocacy groups, however, contend their concerns were ignored in the process.

“There’s no improvements to this policy that would benefit trans and non-binary students or benefit their supportive parents,” said Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, in an NBC News interview. “The governor claims to be for transgender and non-binary youth, but again, we received no outreach from the administration or the department on our thoughts on the policy.”

Governor Glenn Youngkin released a statement defending the policies, saying “The VDOE updated model policies reaffirm my administration’s continued commitment to ensure that every parent is involved in conversations regarding their child’s education, upbringing and care.”

The new policies are similar to last year’s, but with some key changes. They allow parents to opt their children out of using gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms. They also require parental consent for using pronouns and names different than what is in school records for students under 18.

“We believe that these policies put parents in the driver’s seat,” said Todd Gathje, a lobbyist for the Family Foundation of Virginia, in an interview on NBC News. “They assert their primacy over the decision making when it comes to their children.”

LGBTQ advocates argue the policies still fail to adequately protect transgender students, especially from being forced to come out to unsupportive parents before they are ready.

“They still prohibit school districts from protecting students against forced outing to their parents when they may not be ready for their parents to know,” said Wyatt Rolla of the Virginia ACLU in the same interview. “And it may not be safe.”

The model policies will be implemented on a local level by individual school boards. Advocacy groups on both sides are urging parents to review the policies and make their voices heard.

“It’s really important that people educate themselves on exactly what these policies mean and [on] all of the advocacy tools that are still available for us to respond,” Rolla said.

Light Wave commentary

Virginia’s new school policies on treatment of transgender and non-binary students have sparked divided reactions. Advocates for LGBTQ youth argue the updated policies fail to adequately protect transgender students. Conservative groups, however, believe the policies empower parents to have more control over decisions affecting their children’s education and upbringing. Implementation will vary by locality, leading to continued debate. While emotions are running high on both sides, a thoughtful approach that takes into proper consideration the well-being and rights of students, while respecting parents’ roles appears to remain elusive.