Students across Virginia protested Tuesday in response to new guidelines putting restrictions on transgender students in the state’s public schools.
Walkouts are set to take place throughout the day at more than 90 middle and high schools in the state, according to student-run advocacy group Pride Liberation Project, which organized the statewide effort. As of noon on Tuesday, students in Woodbridge, Springfield, Manassas, McLean and other Virginia cities were waving rainbow picket signs and shouting, “Trans rights are human rights!”
“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,” said Ranger Balleisen, a transgender senior at McLean High School in Fairfax County who helped organize the protests. “But, instead, we have to be here, because they’re trying to take away our rights.”
Earlier this month, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration rewrote Virginia’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students, mandating that all students use school facilities, including bathrooms or locker rooms, according to the sex they were assigned at birth. The policy revision also forbids trans students from changing their names and pronouns at school without a parent’s permission and discourages school staff from concealing students’ gender identities from their parents, regardless of whether a student prefers to keep their transition a secret.
Proponents welcomed the policy change, lauding the new measures for giving parents greater discretion over their child’s schooling experience. Parental rights in education was a central issue of Youngkin’s campaign for the Virginia governorship last year and was largely credited with sweeping him to victory.
“Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, and it’s apparent through the public protests and on-camera interviews that those objecting to the guidance already have their parents as part of that conversation,” Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, said in an email. “While students exercise their free speech today, we’d note that these policies state that students should be treated with compassion and schools should be free from bullying and harassment.”
The new guidelines are a sharp reversal from policies enacted last year by Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam. Northam’s guidelines said “school staff should abide by the student’s wishes” regarding names and pronouns. They also recommended that educators allow students to use school facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms, that correspond with their gender identities. Additionally, the former rules advised that if a student did not want to share their gender identity with their family, “this should be respected.”
Critics have said Youngkin’s measures “put prejudice in front of progress” and have called them “discriminatory.”
“When Barbara Johns walked out, people told her she should have stayed put too,” Virginia state Del. Danica Roem, who in 2018 became the first out trans person to be seated in a U.S. state legislature, tweeted, referring to the late civil rights leader who is credited with helping push the Supreme Court to deem racial school segregation illegal. “Student voices matter and #Virginia students today are following in her footsteps — and I know a lot of PWC parents are super proud of their kids for speaking up.”