MCLEAN, Va. — Thousands of students at nearly 100 high schools across Virginia walked out of class Tuesday to protest Gov. Glenn Youngkin's plan to reverse policies designed to protect transgender students.
Chanting and holding handmade signs reading "Outing Students is Dangerous" and "I'm Straight and this Hurts Me," hundreds of students at McLean High School rallied in the school parking lot.
About 60 students marched out the front door at Loudoun County High School, in an area that's seen some of the loudest battles over transgender rights. An organizer said the proposed new policies from the Virginia Department of Education could endanger trans students.
Hundreds of students rallied on the football field at John Lewis High School in Springfield. An online list put out by the Pride Liberation Project, the LGBTQ+ advocacy group that organized the protests, said schools across Fairfax County, Arlington, Prince William, Richmond, Culpeper, Loudoun, and Virginia Beach planned to participate.
Casey Calabia, 17, a non-binary senior at McLean High School broke down in tears as they described how they felt about Youngkin. "I am scared of this man. My friends are scared of this man. How can he stand there and say he loves this country and loves this state if he wants to hurt us?"
Casey said they were bullied, misgendered on their sports team, and suicidal before coming to the "accepting, vibrant, diversity of McLean." "I nearly committed suicide. These are really kids who are scared out of their minds because of this policy," they said.
Under the 2022 Model Policies released Sept. 16 by the Virginia Department of Education, new rules include students only being allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their biological sex. Students can only participate on athletics teams that align with their sex assigned at birth. Teachers and staff can only refer to students by their names and pronouns associated with their records unless a parent says otherwise.
These new policies are a big pivot from the previous state administration, which signed a law requiring school districts to adopt policies respecting a student's transgender status, gender identity and use of pronouns and names.
The governor bills the new policies as a matter of parental rights, an issue that galvanized his campaign and helped him get elected.
The Youngkin administration released a statement Tuesday from spokeswoman Macaulay Porter. “The guidelines make it clear that when parents are part of the process, schools will accommodate the requests of children and their families. Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, and it’s apparent through the public protests and on-camera interviews that those objecting to the guidance already have their parents as part of that conversation,” Porter said. “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.”
Transgender protections in school have been the latest touchstone in America's ongoing culture war. Some on the right have labeled them "child abuse" and "grooming."
"By accepting trans students, you're not indoctrinating anyone. You're not grooming anyone. You're telling children who were born queer that you're ok to be queer," Casey responded.
The comment period on the model policies on the state education department website opened on Sept. 26 and will stay open for 30 days. As of Tuesday, there were already more than 17,000 comments, with opinions being fiercely divided.