A group that included a Republican legislative aide protested a school in Wise, Virginia, over its trans-inclusive policies.
A legislative aide to Virginia state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R) spoke at an anti-trans rally at a school in Wise, Virginia, on Monday evening, where he said lawmakers supporting trans-inclusive education policies should be voted out of office.
The aide, Jony Baker, also organizes for the group Stand Up Virginia, which has opposed policies that are respectful of transgender students.
At the rally, Baker said, "We got an election coming up this November, and I didn't come here to preach politics, but we gotta get that bunch out of Richmond."
About 120 rallygoers met for an hour outside of the building the school board meets in, with no activists there to oppose them.
Speakers at the rally said policies that are inclusive of transgender students are an "abomination," and they threatened to take their kids out of public school if these regulations are implemented, Virginia outlet TimesNews reported. Republican officials for Wise and Russell counties were also present.
Last year, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law that requires Virginia's education department to create and share with schools guidance on how to prevent bullying and harassment, maintain a safe and supportive learning environment, and how to comply with nondiscrimination laws in regard to the treatment of transgender students.
School boards are required to implement these rules in the 2021-2022 school year. But Virginia Assistant Attorney General Melissa Charnes has said that there is no enforcement mechanism to punish school boards that don't approve trans-inclusive policies.
No one was in the building during Stand Up Virginia's rally because there wasn't a meeting scheduled for Monday, according to WYMT, a CBS affiliate. A Wise County School Board member told WYMT there isn't any planned discussion on policies related to transgender students for the future.
Republicans have embraced anti-transgender messaging and legislation in recent years. Republican state lawmakers introduced a tidal wave of bills targeting transgender youth in 2021, which were pushed by anti-LGBTQ groups.
The Conservative Political Action Conference in February featured transphobic remarks from none other than former President Donald Trump on transgender athletes and a panel on transgender people's participation in sports.
Stephen Miller, who worked for the Trump White House, advised him on the speech, according to Politico. Miller told the outlet, "This issue will help [the] GOP win midterms."
In 2020, a conservative think tank called American Principles Project announced a digital ad campaign "aimed at exposing the radicalism of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other Democratic candidates on transgender issues."
In 2019, Terry Schilling, executive director of the think tank, said focusing on transgender rights in the 2020 election was about "trying to show Republicans how to win on these key issues."
There have been a number of events where people opposing trans equality, along with the nonexistent practices of K-12 teachers giving lessons on critical race theory in the state, have packed school board meetings in the past couple of months.
It's all in the lead-up to November, when Virginians will vote to elect candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, the House of Delegates, and some local offices. The Republican nominee for Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, defended a Virginia teacher in June after he was suspended for saying he wouldn't address transgender students by their correct pronouns.
The rally in Wise took place two weeks after the local school board approved a number of policies recommended by the Virginia School Boards Association. These are routine quarterly updates, explained Robert Rigby Jr., co-president of Fairfax County Public Schools Pride, an organization for LGBTQ staff and students in the Fairfax school system.
The updates say that the school board is committed to nondiscrimination with regard to sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, and more. It says this commitment to nondiscrimination should be apparent in its educational programs and services, and it lists legal references, including the legal code that refers to 2020 guidance on transgender students. But it doesn't say anything beyond that about transgender students or school policies.
Rigby told the American Independent Foundation that the protest against trans-inclusive policies "creates animosity towards LGBTQ people, which is really alarming in terms of what will happen to schools in the fall, because public animosity trickles down to bullying and harassment in schools. Kids hear things. They repeat them."
He added, "I think part of it is a heckler veto. It's designed to alarm school boards that might adopt the model policies and they might say, 'Oh, there's all this noise, all this opposition.'"
Stand Up Virginia is the same group that boasted about its role in a Loudon County School Board meeting in June, where a person was injured and another person was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice for physically threatening someone at the meeting and resisting arrest, according to an NBC affiliate.
The June school board meeting was about trans-inclusive policies, including requiring staff to address transgender students by their correct name and gender. Some of the people opposing transgender equality held signs at the meeting that read, "There are two genders: male and female. Trust (teach) the science."
Brenda Tillett, the president of the group, said on Facebook, in a post that has since been deleted or made private, of the June meeting, "We were at [the meeting] in droves, in full force."
Tillett said Stand Up Virginia joined with other organizations to "put the word out," and said Loudon and Fairfax Republican parties helped the group pack the meeting with people opposing trans-inclusive policies. Stand Up Virginia's Facebook group is private and Tillett's post is no longer available.
Rigby said another conservative group, the Family Foundation of Virginia, is also a big part of the opposition to the state's guidance on trans-inclusive policies and getting people out to oppose them at meetings. The group is suing the Virginia Department of Education over its policies on transgender rights.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.