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Virginia Lawmaker Wants Statewide Policies For Transgender Public School Students

Two women talk in crowded room
Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) wants to direct the Virginia Department of Education to create comprehensive guidelines for transgender public school students. (Sara McCloskey/VPM)

The state of Virginia currently has no comprehensive guidelines for how to treat transgender students in public schools, but a bill filed in the General Assembly could change that.

A bill from Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) would direct the Virginia Department of Education to create a standard set of policies dealing with transgender and non-binary students. The guidelines would replace the patchwork policies currently in place in school districts around the state. The bill asks VDOE to address common concerns such as bathroom use, gender pronouns and bullying.

“All students, including our transgender students, deserve a safe and welcoming learning environment that promotes their short- and long-term mental health and overall well-being,” Boysko said.

School boards in Virginia would be required to adopt policies consistent with VDOE’s new guidelines by the end of the year.

Willow Woyck, a transgender woman who works with transgender teens and their parents in Loudon County, spoke in support of the bill at a subcommittee meeting Friday morning.

“Being supported, being recognized as who you are is incredibly important,” Woyck said. “ There’s been studies just the existence of gay-straight alliance or a gender-and-sexuality alliance in a high school reduces suicides across the board for all students, not just LGBTQ students.”

The bill has been endorsed by the Virginia Education Association and the pro-LGBTQ organization Equality Virginia. Faith-based conservative groups like The Family Foundation of Virginia and Virginia Catholic Conference are opposing it.

Todd Gathje, director of government relations for The Family Foundation of Virginia, told legislators that a more inclusive bathroom policy could pose a safety risk, though he admitted there is little data to support that claim. 

“It would allow for possible use of bathrooms by members of one sex using the bathroom of the opposite sex, violating the rights and privacy of many students,” he said.

Gathje said he is also concerned that teachers of faith could be forced to use a student’s preferred pronouns, even if it violates the tenets of their faith. Peter Vlaming, a teacher at Virginia’s West Point High School, was recently fired for refusing to.

The bill to clarify public school accommodations for transgender students comes after Gavin Grimm won a lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board. A federal judge ruled in August that the county’s trangender bathroom ban amounted to discrimination.


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