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All across the state of Virginia, students walked out of class on Tuesday in support of their transgender classmates. The effort comes as the Commonwealth’s governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin, pushes new policies many say discriminate against transgender youth.
The policy change comes amid a rash of bills targeting transgender students in states nationwide.
Youngkin’s recently issued guidance says school employees “cannot be compelled” to call a student by their preferred name or pronouns without parental permission. It would ban districts from not allowing teachers to out trans students to their parents. The policy also requires students to use the bathroom of their sex as assigned at birth.
It’s a stunning reversal of the current guidance in the state, which encourages schools to use preferred names and pronouns. Current guidelines also allow students to engage in school activities based on their gender identity.
The Governor’s staff says the new measures will support parents.
However, for students in at least 90 schools across the Commonwealth, the policies are another attack on the trans community.
Virginia LGBTQ+ students say new anti-trans policies will put them at risk
“We decided to hold these walkouts as kind of a way to … disrupt schools and essentially have students be aware of what’s going on,” Natasha Sanghvi, a Virginia student told NBC Washington.
Ranger Ballesien, a transgender student in Fairfax, Virginia, says they feel less safe at school because of the governor’s actions.
“All of the safety that I thought I had has been absolutely taken away,” Balleisen told the local NBC station. “It’s terrifying not being able to trust in the security that I had in my school.”
At least 10,000 students statewide are estimated to have joined in the effort to ensure their voices were heard. Dramatic video from news choppers show students waving trans pride flags while streaming out of schools.
One of those students was Diego Vega, a bi-sexual, non-binary junior at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas, VA.
“Under the current policy, I feel safer than ever knowing that students like me, and also students not like me, are able to freely express themselves,” Vega told the Prince William Times on Monday. “If these new draft policies are actually put into place, I would feel less safe because us trans students would likely become targets of hate among our school population.”
“I just want to emphasize the fact that queer students — although we are a minority at school — with the amount of allies that we have at school, add up to a majority,” Vega continued. “We will not let these harmful changes happen silently. We’re not just going to sit around and watch this regression happen.”
On Monday, Virginia opened online public comments to solicit feedback on the policy. In just two days, it’s already received more than 19,000 comments.
Comments close on October 26th, after which Governor Youngkin will make his final decision.