'Students will not stand to become politicized and will not stand to become part of the governor's agenda or his next campaign,' one organizer said.
More than 12,000 students at 100 schools across Virginia walked out of class on Tuesday to protest new guidelines issued by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration that would pare back protections for transgender youth.
On Sep. 16, the Virginia Department of Education released a slate of "model policies" governing the rights of transgender students in schools. The new rules require transgender students to use school facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. They also institute new requirements for parental consent before a student receives counseling related to their gender identity. And the new policies make it significantly more difficult for students to go by a different name and use pronouns that correspond with their gender identity at school — even with parental consent.
The student walkout was organized by Pride Liberation Project, a statewide youth LGBTQIA+ advocacy group founded last year by students in Fairfax County. High school sophomore Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, the group's president, told the American Independent Foundation that she expected thousands of students to have participated by the end of the school day.
"It's really been all these amazing Virginia students all across the Commonwealth who have organized these walkouts and come together to let Gov. Youngkin know that we're not behind these restrictions," she said.
On Monday, Virginia's online Regulatory Town Hall, a forum for residents to offer feedback on proposed policy changes, opened the model policies to public comment. It will remain open for 30 days. At press time, there were nearly 30,000 comments, some expressing support and some decrying the change. By comparison, the state regulation that received the second-highest number of comments, an expansion of child care subsidies, received just 23 comments.
Once the public comment period closes, the department will review the changes and issue a final version. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, a Republican appointed by Youngkin this year, will then either approve or reject the guidelines.
Law professors told the Washington Post that the rules would likely be challenged in court.
"These standards are not about the rights of parents or protecting students, as they've been pushed by the governor. They're about politicizing the students of Virginia and making us pawns," Vizcardo-Lichter said. "Students will not stand to become politicized and will not stand to become part of the governor's agenda or his next campaign. We are human beings as well as students and we have lives that deserve to be protected."
Under the previous rules, which were adopted during former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's administration, transgender students were free to use school facilities that aligned with their gender identity and were allowed to choose their preferred names and pronouns.
"We first want to love every kid, and we want to make sure that we're protecting their dignity and their privacy and their safety. And the difference in what our policies are really focused on is indeed bringing parents fully in," Youngkin told Fox & Friends Wednesday morning. "This is a moment for us to also recognize that our families are so important — the children don't belong to the state, they belong to families. And so as children are dealing with important topics, parents have to be at the center, and that's what these policies are all about."
Youngkin became governor after pulling off a surprise win against former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state President Joe Biden won by more than 10 points. While he worked to cultivate a moderate image during his campaign as a basketball-loving suburban dad, he leaned heavily on culture war provocations about critical race theory and transphobic, illusory fears that sexual predators would use trans-inclusive bathroom policies to attack children.
Since his victory, there's been buzz around a potential 2024 Youngkin presidential bid. This cycle, he's taken to the campaign trail for Republican gubernatorial candidates, sometimes promoting far-right, conspiratorially minded candidates such as Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, who has claimed the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Republican elected officials across the country have proposed a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year. Eighteen states have passed legislation barring trans kids from playing on school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott instructed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents for child abuse if they allow their children to receive gender-affirming care.
Republicans have been clear about their opposition to transgender rights. In his 12-point plan outlining Republican priorities if the party takes control of Congress this cycle, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called for bans on transgender women and girls participating in women's sports and gender-affirming care for trans youth.
Most House Republicans support similar anti-trans legislation, including legislation that would strip federal funding from universities that allowed trans women to play on teams with cisgender women, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Blade.
"I think we're seeing a huge rollback of these rights across the nation," Vizcardo-Lichter said. "Students need to come together at a local, at a state, at a national level to ensure that politicians are not using us for their agenda and to score points or win votes."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.