About 40 people lay on the ground in silence in front of the Capitol Square Bell Tower on Oct. 23. The crowd remained on the ground for a few minutes in honor of transgender students who have not felt safe at school.
The moment of silence took place at the end of a rally supporting the rights of transgender students organized by the Virginia Collegiate Queer Collective. The group seeks to form a coalition of LGBTQ+ organizations at Virginia universities and is working against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policies regarding transgender students. Students from the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond spoke at the rally.
The policies, originally released on Sept. 19, would require students to use bathrooms and join athletic teams corresponding to their sex at birth, and schools would be required to notify parents if their children request to be called by different names or pronouns, said Jack Preis, a professor of law at the University of Richmond. The public comment period delaying the implementation of these policies is set to end on Oct. 26.
Speakers at the protest said Virginia used to be a leader among southern states in passing affirmative policies. They said this was no longer the case, with Youngkin’s new policies joining some of the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed in state legislatures across the country.
VCQC representatives spoke about various initiatives taking place through their committees dedicated to outreach, education, programs and legal matters.
Senior Nichole Schiff, who is president of the LGBTQ+ Coalition on campus, attended the rally. VCQC contacted the groups toward the end of last month, Schiff said. She hopes that the coalition will encourage greater involvement from UR students on these issues, Schiff said.
Thad Williamson, a leadership professor at UR, is concerned parental notification could harm some transgender students by “outing” them to their parents, he said.
“[Transgender students] may not have supportive families, and school may actually be their refuge and a place where they can be themselves,” he said.
Youngkin has defended his policies, taking the stance that parents should not be left out of the life changes regarding transgender youth, and believes that these policies will help bring parents into the forefront of matters concerning their children.
“I can't begin to see why someone would advocate for excluding a parent from these most important decisions and that's why these model policies are important,” Youngkin said in an interview with CBS 19 Charlottesville.
Youngkin further defended his stance, saying there were independent processes to ensure the safety of children in their homes, in which teachers and counselors could acquire if issues arise.
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The Hanover County School Board passed a resolution on Aug. 31 in a closed session to restrict transgender students' access to restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. Hanover County School Board member Ola J. Hawkins declined The Collegian’s request for comment.
Many high school students across the state have staged walkouts to express their disagreement with the new policy. As of Oct. 23, more than 62,000 comments have been made in the public comment period following the release of the model policies.
“They know our power, and they are actively trying to disappear us, erase us, minimize us, hide us, and it's not going to work,” said Casey Butler, the associate director of LGBTQ+ Student Life on campus.
Youngkin’s policies may not all come to fruition. A Supreme Court case allowing students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity may void one of the policies, and people will likely file lawsuits on the basis of conflict with federal laws such as Title IX or the Americans with Disabilities Act, Preis said. Enforcement generally will be difficult because the governor cannot tie a school district's funding to compliance, Preis said.
Youngkin’s administration is unlikely to make major changes to the policies before they are implemented, but some school districts may decide not to enforce them, Preis said. The Richmond City School Board passed a resolution to reject them 8-1, while the Henrico County School Board has not yet made a decision.
UR first-year Jasmine Khatcheressian, who is transgender and uses she/her pronouns, encouraged teachers to continue recognizing gender identities through the use of preferred names and pronouns. Teachers should treat transgender students the same way they treat their cisgender students, Khatcheressian said.
“A lot of what has made it bearable has been the ... supportive teachers who have been fighting the system from the inside,” Khatcheressian said.
Although the policies may be challenged or implemented inconsistently, they are still a calculated political move by Youngkin, Preis said.
“Politically speaking, this is a great move,” he said. “[Youngkin] just comes away looking like a fighter, even if he loses.”
Contact city and state editor Eileen Pomeroy at email@example.com.
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