Thousands of students across Virginia walked out Tuesday to protest the state's Republican governor Glenn Youngkin's proposed rollback of transgender rights, part of new policies his administration plans to implement at the Virginia Department of Education.
Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization, coordinated the walkouts with students at nearly 100 schools across the state.
Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, the lead organizer, tells The Advocate she's thrilled with the results.
“We estimate 12,000+ students walked out yesterday in opposition of the proposed guidelines, showing Virginia students’ capacity to stand up for what matters to them,” Vizcardo-Lichter says.
As mandated by a 2020 law, the VDOE published model policies on how to treat transgender students in public schools in 2021 under the administration of the previous Democratic governor, Gov. Ralph Northam.
Those policies stated, “School divisions are encouraged to develop comprehensive policies, regulations, guidance and implementation plans to minimize social stigmatization for such students and maximize opportunities for social integration so that all students have an equal opportunity to attend school, be engaged, and achieve academic success.”
Furthermore, those policies noted that “this process should be informed by the needs of students, and the strongest policies are developed when they include student participation.”
According to the 2021 policies, students had the choice of pronouns and restrooms appropriate for their gender identity.
In Youngkin's new 2022 model policies released on September 16, the VDOE rescinded those for 2021.
Critics say Youngkin is undoing all the progress made under Northam in making schools safe and affirming environments for all students.
The new policies, called “Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools,” undo all of the affirming and inclusive measures previously implemented and instead beg the question of whether cruelty is the point.
The new policies, for example, indicate that school employees may refer to students only using the names and pronouns that correspond to their official records, that students participate in athletic teams or extracurricular activities according to their gender assigned at birth, and that students “shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.”
The new policies also force educators to out their students to their parents. Before counseling services “pertaining to gender” are offered to a student, parents must be informed and have the opportunity to object.
These considered policies endorsed by small government conservatives entail heavy-handed government intervention into the lives of LGBTQ+ students in public schools.
To accommodate the needs of any LGBTQ+ student, under the new policies, it would be necessary for parents to give their approval for teachers and others to refer to a student by a different name or pronoun at school, and families would need to provide legal records changing a student's name or pronouns.
Vizcardo-Lichter says she is not deterred by bigotry and that students in the state will continue to exert their power and raise their voices to reject what she sees as the intolerant direction Youngkin is taking Virginia.
“We continue to urge students to attend, rally, and testify at their local school board meetings,” Vizcardo-Lichter says.