12,000+ Students Stage Walkouts Across Virginia in Protest of Recent LGBTQ Policy Reversals in Schools

 

Students at 100 schools in Virginia held school walkouts across the state Tuesday to protest Governor Youngkin’s recent reversal of policies for transgender students in the state.

The original model transgender policies were meant to protect LGBTQ students, including the right to not be outed by school officials, use bathrooms that align with their gender, and be addressed by their names and pronouns. 

The new revisions reverses these measures and instead require parental sign-off on the use of name and pronouns other than what’s in a student’s official record. The revisions also bar trans and gender nonconforming students from participating in sports that align with their gender. 

Students streamed out of classrooms throughout schools in Loudon, Fairfax Prince William Stafford, Arlington, and Spotsylvania counties. 

“I can’t be engaged in class if I’m worried that my rights are being taken away,” said Kat in a press release, a student who walked out at Manor High School in Portsmouth. Kat went on to note that these guidelines would “endanger my community ” and “undermine the ability for every Virginia student to thrive.”

 

Another student at Hermitage High School in Henrico County, Len, noted the devastating impact of these polices: “As a transgender student, it seems like the Governor thinks that erasing my ability to be myself will make my community disappear. But it’ll only lead to harassment, abuse, and depression among trans students. I'm just trying to learn and graduate, not become a political pawn."

Natasha, a student who walked out at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, highlighted the political motivations of these attacks: “Governor Youngkin says that he cares about parental rights and Virginia, but he’s just attacking Queer students. If he truly cared about our students, he wouldn’t be putting us at risk for depression, harm, abuse, and harassment. Students know we have the potential  to build schools that let everyone succeed, but we can’t do that with these policies.”

Sanghvi stated students decided to stage the walkouts “as a kind of way to disrupt schools and essentially have students be aware of what’s going on.”

2022 has already seen a record breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, with over 200 anti-LGBTQ state bills being proposed across the country. The majority of these bills directly target LGBTQ youth, specifically trans youth, in schools. 

Similar student walkouts in protest of anti-LGBTQ policies have taken place this year in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and dozens of other cities that participated in a separate national Queer Youth Walkout event in March. 

“Almost half of Virginia’s K-12 students attend schools in divisions that have fully adopted the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students,” said Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia.

“These policies, developed in accordance with evidence-based best practices, give teachers and administrators critical tools to create safe, inclusive and learning environments for all students. School boards in every corner of our Commonwealth have a unique and urgent opportunity to protect transgender students by adopting the model policies.”

 

 

More than 300 students walked out of classes, chanting, “Trans rights are human rights,” and, “D-O-E [Department of Education], leave us be!” at McClean High School. 

Over 17,000 comments were submitted by Tuesday morning to the Virginia Department of Education (DOE), which will review and potentially make revisions to the guidelines before they’re finalized by the state superintendent, according to spokesman Charles Pyle.

According to Equality Virginia the state’s Department of Education revised 2022 model policy will: 

  • Requires parents of trans youth to request their child be deadnamed and/or misgendered, practices in which a trans person’s birth name or sex assigned at birth is revealed without permission. 
  • Prevent students from using their correct name, unless they get parental consent and get it legally changed.
  • Let parents opt LGBTQ students out of counseling, regardless of the student’s will.
  • Prevent school districts from collecting data on rates of depression in the LGBTQ student body.
  • Require school administrators and faculty to out any transgender and gender expansive student, and may allow schools to out all queer students 
  • Name and pronoun changes would require a request from parents, as well as official legal documents or court orders noting the change. 
  • Prohibit schools from addressing students by their correct pronouns if they don’t align with assigned birth sex.
  • Prohibit schools from recognizing nonbinary pronouns.
  • Ban transgender students from participating in school sports. 
  • Ban transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. 

“The reversal of life saving policies that protect LGBTQ students in Virginia sends a toxic message that Governor Youngkin prioritizes dangerous politics over protections for Virginia students,” GLAAD’s President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said on Monday, ahead of the walkouts. 

 

“LGBTQ youth across the board deserve to feel safe in schools, and these baseless policies continue to fuel the ongoing anti-trans legislative forest fire.” 

According to reports, the Richmond School Board rejected the draft policies, saying the board "affirms the commitment to providing protections for all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."

“The goal of this document is to persuade local school districts who may not have expertise on trans kids, to pursue a particular approach to treating those kids,” said Professor Jack Preis with the University of Richmond's School of Law. 

“Just because this document encourages that particular approach does not mean that school districts are insulated from lawsuits. 

I expect a lot of students or parents of students will file lawsuits challenging the decisions that the local districts make. And it's irrelevant whether or not the local district made that decision because of the model policy or any other reason it might have made that decision.”