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Rights of transgender students up for debate in Virginia

A proposal bill passed a subcommittee Tuesday night.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — A bill making its way through the Virginia General Assembly aims to change policies that protect transgender students. The proposal passed a house education subcommittee Tuesday night.

In 2020 the General Assembly ordered Virginia school districts to adopt policies that are inclusive of transgender and nonbinary students. Those policies allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and allow them to use their preferred pronouns and name.

House Bill 988, sponsored by Del. Scott Wyatt (R)-97, would eliminate the requirement that each school board adopts those model policies developed by the Department of Education.

"There are a few localities around the Commonwealth of Virginia that would choose to not adopt those policies," Wyatt said. “Let the localities decide. If a certain locality wants to adopt a model policy, I’m not speaking against that, but if someone like a King William County or a smaller locality chooses not to go down that road, we should respect them.”

The proposed policy motivated some Fairfax County Public School students to attend the hearing in Richmond, or virtually, to speak out against it. 

“It can just be really debilitating to see so many people fighting for what they think is going to protect their children when really we’re the ones at risk,” Frankie Sellars, a senior at Westfield High School said.

RELATED: Virginia Supreme Court upholds reinstatement of LCPS teacher suspended over comments on transgender policy

While there were many people opposed to the bill, there were also many people in support of it.

“I am a parent activist from Loudoun County, and I am in support of this bill," Natasha Grover said. "I have been fighting for girls’ safety, privacy rights, and freedom of speech for several years. And I actively oppose the implementation of policies that were a direct result of that transgender model policy mandate.”

The bill also caught the attention of the Virginia ACLU, which has been a proponent for bills supporting transgender rights. 

"Such a repeal would place school districts at risk of costly litigation for violating state and federal laws," Breanna Diaz with ACLU Virginia said. "Moreover, transgender youth have the right to be supported and thrive in schools as their authentic selves no matter where they live in Virginia. To ensure this all school boards must adopt clear and comprehensive nondiscrimination policies like those provided by the department of education.”

RELATED: Loudoun County school board adopts transgender rights policy

The motion to send the bill to the committee was passed 4-2. 

Delegate Suhas Subramanyam (D) - 87  spoke out against the bill and said it is the job of the General Assembly to value every single person and keep a policy to ensure school boards adopt protections.

However, the bill sponsor and other delegates said school boards should be allowed to opt out and not have a model policy.

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