Metro Weekly

Virginia Senate rejects bill repealing trans student protections

The committee also rejected a bill to restrict transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity.

virginia, trans, student, senate
Virginia State Capitol — Photo: Skip Plitt/Wikimedia Commons.

A Virginia Senate committee has rejected a bill that would undermine a law intended to ensure transgender students are not subjected to discrimination or harassment.

The Senate Education and Health committee voted 8-4 to “indefinitely” pass by SB 20, a bill that sought to eliminate a requirement that Virginia school boards to adopt guidelines consistent with the Virginia Department of Education’s “model policies” regarding transgender students. 

Adopted in 2020, the model policies provide a footprint for potential policies that acknowledge transgender students’ gender identity, ensuring they can have their gender affirmed, be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns, have their gender reflected on school records and transcripts, access facilities like bathrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, and are guaranteed equal access to school resources, clubs, or sports teams.

The model policies are not a one-size-fits-all dictate, nor are they consistent from county to county. Last March, the Department of Education only said that the policies adopted by individual school boards had to be “consistent with” the aim of the model policies — in other words, ensuring that transgender students are not mistreated or denied opportunities granted to other students. Under the law, individual school boards are perfectly within their rights to adopt more inclusive or in-depth policies guaranteeing protections for trans students if they see fit.

But some LGBTQ advocates had feared, following the November victories of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, and Attorney General Jason Miyares, as well as a switch in party control of the House of Delegates, that Republicans would move to rescind protections for transgender students, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and harassment at the hands of reactionary school boards, unfeeling school administrators, and conservative peers.

But because Democrats still control the Virginia Senate, they also hold majorities on every committee, setting the stage for the inevitable defeat of the proposed measure to exempt local school boards from having to adopt pro-transgender policies.

“This is an important victory for the health and safety of transgender students in Virginia,” Narissa Rahaman, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “The policies use well-established best practices to help ensure Virginia schools are welcoming and affirming learning environments for all students, while helping districts stay in compliance with state and federal laws. We’ll be fighting to keep up this momentum as the General Assembly continues.”

A similar bill, HB 988, is currently moving through the House of Delegates, where it is likely to pass, largely along party lines. But when it heads to the Senate, it is likely, barring Democratic defections, to be defeated as well.

“The model policies are lifesaving for trans students and families in Virginia, and we can’t roll them back,” Shannon McKay, the president of He She Ze and We, a nonprofit organization serving families with transgender loved ones through support, education, and advocacy. “Teachers and staff deserve to receive quality guidance and training that equips them with best practices so they feel confident supporting all of their students, including transgender kids. Transgender children, just as all children, deserve to be included and treated with dignity and respect every day, in every public school, in every town.”

The Senate Education and Health committee also voted 9-4 to table SB 766, a measure that would have barred transgender student-athletes from competing on teams that align with their gender identity.

“Senate Bill 766 was a solution in search of a problem and would’ve created stigma for transgender youth athletes,” Rahaman said. “The Virginia High School League already has policies that protect transgender youth and ensure a level playing field for all students. Every kid deserves a chance to play sports, and that includes transgender kids.”

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