More than 1,000 teens in Virginia staged a walkout yesterday to protest anti-transgender policies recently proposed by the state’s Republican Governor Youngkin. Students from a number of high schools and middle schools across the state joined in on the protest, spearheaded by the student-run LGBTQ+ advocacy group Pride Liberation Project.
Youngkin’s policies are actually rollbacks — a rescission of protections established by his predecessor, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, that had been put in place to protect transgender students.
Earlier this month, Youngkin rewrote the existing policies and included anti-trans rules for Virginia schools. Included in the new policies are rules that students must use restrooms based on their assigned gender, students are not allowed to request that faculty use a different name or pronouns without parental consent, requires that students file legal documents to request the use of new pronouns, and encourages faculty and staff to out trans students to their parents or caregivers.
“Trans students are students just like everybody else. We don’t want to be out here fighting for our rights and protesting — we want to be in calculus class and learning how to drive,” Ranger Balleisen, co-organizer of the protests and transgender senior at McLean High School in Fairfax County, told NBC News. “But, instead, we have to be here because they’re trying to take away our rights.”
Northam’s previous policies included allowing restroom use and sports team participation based on gender identity and allowing students to use names and pronouns of their choice without parental involvement. Northam also encouraged faculty to respect students' privacy regarding identity and orientation and not inform family members without consent.
Youngkin’s proposals would remove all of these protections.
Youngkin’s proposals are just one drop in a wave of anti-trans legislation that has swept the country recently, and advocates are claiming a win for “parental rights,” a central platform in Youngkin’s campaign.
A spokesperson for the Governor told NBC News that students should be thankful that the new policies encourage school officials to treat the protesting students with respect.
Opponents of Youngkins walk-backs claim discrimination and prejudice, and students are concerned about the impact of trans students being deadnamed and misgendered daily in school and the physical and emotional risk of students being outed to their parents against their will.
And that risk is profound. A report from the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ kids who were supported by their families were more than 50% less likely to attempt suicide than those who did not feel supported, that transgender and nonbinary youth have the highest rates of depression and anxiety and are worried about anti-trans policies, and that 20% of trans and nonbinary youth attempted suicide last year.
Forcibly outing trans students to their parents, who may not be supportive, could be incredibly harmful. "I know people personally who are out at school but not out at home," one Virginia student told USA Today. "If they got outed through this transgender model policy, it would absolutely ruin their lives. They do not have supportive households."
The proposed policy changes just entered into a 30-day public comment period and have already garnered almost 30,000 comments, with more posting each minute. The comment period is open until October 26, after which the State Superintendent may choose to alter the policies based on public comment.
Several school boards say they’ll refuse to follow the Governor’s policies should they be enacted unchanged.