Public shares voices after Virginia releases new policies on the treatment of transgender students

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-27 18:38:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Inside a conference room on the 22nd floor of the James Monroe building, a debate played out Thursday that likely previews similar dialogues in at local school board meetings in the coming months. A little more than a week after the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released new model policies for the treatment of transgender students, advocates spoke out at their board's first meeting since.

Even though the policies were not on the agenda for the meeting, everyone in the room knew why most in the crowd were gathered.

"It’s time to make good on our pledge to remain united as one nation, under God, against the attacks and the ideologies of an enemy seeking to divide our families and our nation," Zach Ritz, a pastor in Warrenton who supports the changes, said.

"Moral panic against our transgender brothers and sisters has been carefully manufactured over the past two years by media pundits, religious zealots, Astro-turf coalitions, and vain politicians," Richmond-area parent Michael Karabinos said.

The VDOE under the direction of appointees by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) reversed many of the policies instituted by his predecessor, Governor Ralph Northam (D - Virginia), writing the 2021 version "promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools" and "disregarded the rights of parents."

Virginia law requires the VDOE to publish policies for local school districts to follow closely.

Under the new policy guidelines, parents must notify schools in writing if they want their student referred to by a name or pronouns that differ from the official record, and unless officially changed with the state, the student's gender will be considered the one they were assigned at birth.

Teachers and staff cannot be asked to use pronouns for a student that differ from the official record.

Bathroom and locker room accommodations will be made for transgender students, but parents can "opt-out" their child if a trans student is allowed by law to use a sex-separated facility.

Schools are also required, under the model policy, to notify a parent if a student questions their gender identity, a provision that's most troubling to LGBTQ advocates.

At the hearing Thursday, a majority of the speakers were in favor of the Youngkin administration's new policies.

A mix of parents, religious and family values organizations, and some medical professionals said the previous guidelines went too far.

"Adolescence is hard today, and if you’re struggling with gender dysphoria, it’s almost torture. All children and adolescents need their parents in this process," Dr. James Anderson, a family physician in Richmond, said.

"The 2023 model policies protect emotionally vulnerable children, respect parents' rights to be involved in their children’s lives, and free teachers from the burdens of having to keep secrets," said Virginia Gentle, a parent of students who used to go to Fairfax County Public Schools.

"The 2023 model policies chose a combination over coercion when addressing these sensitive topics. Students may identify as they wish, but schools will not facilitate their social transition without parental involvement," said Tyson Langhofer, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom."

Other parents, teachers, and students pushed back, saying the new policies ignore the humanity and individuality of transgender and non-binary students, making them jump over extra hurdles to be themselves at school.

"They’re more like a manifesto of parental authoritarianism than a healthy way to support students and their parents," said Cheryl Gibbs Binkley, a longtime Virginia teacher.

"I hear folks talk about parents' rights a lot, but that doesn’t include a right to ownership. Our children are human beings, with human emotions, wants, needs, and rights of their own" Karabinos said.

"None of the supporters of these new model policies have experienced what us queer folks have experienced. They cannot speak to this topic with any nuance, firsthand knowledge, or compassion because of that," Katrina Van Orden, a graduate of Fairfax County Schools who lives in Richmond, said.

Advocates are concerned the schools will be forced to "out" transgender students to their families, who might not be supportive, and said it could lead to dangerous situations.

Backers of the new policies said they do include protections against abuse.

"You can’t have it both ways. Either a student is in danger or they are not. But, based on their ideology, that’s not a reason to consider parents abusers by default," said Laura Hanford, a Fairfax County parent.

Rhidian, who graduated from Henrico County schools, was the only transgender person to speak Thursday, calling schools a "lifeline" for trans kids whose families don't support them.

"I don’t hear a lot of people talk about kids like me," Rhidian said. “My parents tip-toed around it, so they could do anything that wouldn’t be looked upon as abuse. School was the only place that I had.”

State laws say local school boards can adopt more comprehensive policies than those issued by VDOE. Several local school districts, including Richmond, have said they might reject them outright.

In the coming months, some school districts will adopt the policies nearly verbatim, while others will choose to buck the model policies, according to legal experts. Those decisions are likely to face challenges in court.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.



Watch 'The Jennifer Hudson Show' weekdays at 3 p.m. on CBS 6!

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.