RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Students across Virginia protested Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new transgender policy as a public comment period gets underway.
Pride Liberation Project, a student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, said walkouts were planned at nearly one hundred schools on Tuesday, Sept. 27, involving thousands of students.
Those students urged the Youngkin administration to reverse course on new proposed state standards, but, so far, there is no sign that he plans to stray from his parental rights platform.
“It feels like Governor Glenn Youngkin is waging a war on queer people,” said Felix Hedberg, a student at Open High School in Richmond. “For students, this is our fight. It’s not affecting my parents that much. They’re going to go about living their lives but I go to school every day.”
In Central Virginia, dozens were seen flooding out of Hermitage High School in Henrico on Tuesday morning. Protests were also planned at several schools in Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach.
On Tuesday afternoon, students gathered behind Open High School in Richmond for a rally where several students shared their stories. Skylar, a transgender student who wasn’t comfortable using her last name, was among those who spoke out against the proposed policy.
“It’s really just going to put a lot of kids in danger. Trans kids are already at so much more of a risk for bullying, depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicide and so, I feel like if these policies are passed and trans kids don’t feel supported or respected, it’s only going to make things so much worse,” Skylar said.
The new Virginia Department of Education standards, which are intended to replace the policy finalized under former Governor Ralph Northam, don’t appear to change much when it comes to bathroom usage.
But, if approved as written, the updated policy would require parental permission for gender-related school counseling, as well as pronoun and name changes.
On Tuesday evening, less than two days into a 30-day public comment period, responses to the proposed policy had topped 19,000. Some were in support of the new standards.
“I have a 17-year-old daughter who believes she can be a boy. School cannot take the place of parents, and should not try. They should definitely not override the constitutional rights of parents to raise their children, and should not engage in grooming behaviors like keeping secrets from parents,” one respondent named Lindsay wrote.
Callie, a gender-questioning student who didn’t want to use their last name, choked back tears during a speech. They said, “Our governor, the person that we elected to represent and protect us, decided that the best thing to do was to take away the safe space that school offered…not all families are accepting.”
In a statement, Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the guidelines make it clear that, when parents are part of the process, schools will accommodate the requests of children and their families.
“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 statement from Youngkin’s office added.
In an interview on Thursday, Sept. 22, State Superintendent Jillian Balow said there are processes in place for teachers to report abusive home situations, which are reiterated in the proposed policy.
Balow didn’t commit to the changes students are demanding. Instead, she encouraged them to read through the full policy and participate in the public comment period.
“Once they’re finalized, whether they look exactly like they do now, have a few changes, or have lots of changes, the expectation and the law is that they will be adopted,” Balow said.
Balow said she can approve the policy without a vote from the State Board of Education.
Many expect that lawsuits will complicate the implementation of the policy at the local level.