Virginia Senate defeats two bills restricting trans students

Posted at 3:27 PM, Feb 16, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Senate Democrats defeated two bills Thursday that would have restricted transgender students' participation in school athletics and required officials to notify parents if their child identifies as trans in school, measures that faced strenuous objections from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Supporters said the bills would have promoted fairness for female athletes and protected parental rights, and the measures cleared the floor of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates over other warnings that the legislation would harm already at-risk youth. Their defeat in a committee Thursday, according to several groups tracking such measures, means that no legislation on school accommodations or health care for trans children will reach Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's desk during this year's regular legislative session.

“As we approach the end of a hard-fought legislative session that saw two anti-trans bills pass the floor of the House of Delegates, all bills targeting trans and nonbinary youth are officially dead for the 2023 legislative session here in Virginia,” Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.

Youngkin-Transgender Students
Students at McLean High School in McLean, Va., walk out of classes Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Student activists held school walkouts across Virginia on Tuesday to protest Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed changes to the state's guidance on district policies for transgender students that would roll back some accommodations. (AP Photo/Matthew Barakat)

The parental notification measure, sponsored by GOP Del. Dave LaRock, would have required school employees to notify at least one parent if a student who's a minor asks that a school employee “participate" in their gender transition, including through the use of a pronoun that are inconsistent with the child's biological sex.

“What we’re asking is that personnel in the school would report a child who has decided to transition in the school openly, when the student involves the school and the school personnel,” LaRock said during a subcommittee hearing on the bill.

The bill also would have required parental notification before a school could move forward with any counseling related to a gender transition, and it sought to establish that misgendering children would not be construed as abuse.

The bill was voted down on a 9-6 party-line vote Thursday with limited discussion, after debate and public testimony took place in the subcommittee hearing earlier in the week.

LaRock named the legislation after a Virginia teenager whose adoptive mother, Michele Blair, said the teen was bullied and assaulted at school after they asked to be called by a boy’s name. Blair said she was kept in the dark about her child’s gender identity and what her child told some teachers and counselors, something she said led to a “terrible domino effect” of circumstances.

“Parents, we need to know what is going on with our own children at school. Parents, we have the right to raise our children because we know them and we love them the best,” Blair said during Wednesday's subcommittee.

Opponents of the bill said that being able to confide in school counselors and other staff about a gender transition without the fear of being outed could reduce the risk of suicide and mental health struggles for trans students. And they argued that requiring parental notification could put trans children without supportive home environments at risk.

Breanna Diaz with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said the bill would take away the autonomy from young people to decide when and where to come out.

Blair said in a statement after the vote that the Senate committee had turned “parental involvement into a partisan issue."

The Senate committee's defeat of the measure that would have impacted trans athletes, sponsored by Del. Karen Greenhalgh, came after similar measures sponsored by Republican senators were voted down earlier in the session.

The measure would have limited student athletes in public K-12 or higher education teams from participating in sports teams that didn't correspond with the biological sex identified on an athletics eligibility form.

The Virginia High School League, an athletics sanctioning organization, currently has a policy allowing trans student athletes to participate on teams that match their gender identity under certain conditions. Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration has called for a new policy — which is still under review and hasn't yet taken effect — that says participation in certain school programming and use of school facilities should be based on a student’s biological sex, with modifications offered only to the extent required under federal law.

Very few trans students have participated under the current policy, according to numbers provided by the league. Between the policy’s adoption in 2014 through the 2021-22 school year, 28 students have filed appeals seeking to play under the guidelines and 25 of those have been granted.

Greenhalgh has characterized the bill as a matter of fairness for girls and young women.

“Similarly gifted and trained males will always have a physical advantage over females, which is the reason we have women’s sports,” she said.

Because the Senate had already defeated similar bills, there was no debate before the measure was defeated on a 10-5 vote. One Republican, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, joined Democrats in voting to defeat it.

Rahaman said her organization had been tracking 12 anti-trans bills throughout the session and with Wednesday's committee votes, all had been killed. The ACLU of Virginia said the same. A spokesperson for the Family Foundation of Virginia, which helped lead the push for LaRock's bill, also said all related bills the organization was tracking have now been defeated.

While LGBTQ advocates welcome the Senate's defeat of the measures, Rahaman said, she regrets they were introduced to begin with because of the impact on trans youth watching the debate in Virginia, and other statehouses around the country.

“Just the mere introduction of them was already harming students and their mental health, and their ability to show up at school in an authentic way," Rahaman said.

In other action Thursday, the same committee defeated a wide range of other Republican-sponsored bills, including measures dealing with abortion and school reading materials with explicit content.

The regular legislative session is set to end Feb. 25.

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