Young people shouldn’t have to correct the mistakes of adults, but thanks to Republicans who want to legislate certain identities out of existence, that’s exactly what many vulnerable and marginalized youth are doing. We’ve seen instances of this happening before, of course, with youth of color protesting as part of the Black Lives Matter movement and students rallying for abortion rights, as a few recent examples. One major story as of late comes to us out of Virginia, where it’s estimated that more than 12,000 students across 100 public schools walked out in opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ guidelines pushed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, as reported by Blue Virginia.
As Daily Kos previously covered, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) introduced draft guidelines for school boards across the state that are, unfortunately, a considerable step backward in queer and trans rights and protections for students and staff. The guidelines were released on Sept. 16 and were met with immediate backlash—for good reason.
Among other nightmares, the guidelines allow staff to misgender and deadname students, to keep trans youth off of sports teams that align with their gender identity, and ban trans youth from bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. These policies seem to be a reaction to the decent trans-inclusive policies introduced by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
But students aren’t just mad. They’re fighting back with peaceful demonstrations, as we saw on Tuesday, Sept. 27, when thousands of students participated in a coordinated walkout.
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“Governor Youngkin says that he cares about parental rights and Virginia, but he’s just attacking Queer students,” Natasha, a student in Fairfax County, stated, as reported by Blue Virginia. “If he truly cared about our students, he wouldn’t be putting us at risk for depression, harm, abuse, and harassment.”
“I can’t be engaged in class if I’m worried that my rights are being taken away,” Kat, a student in Portsmouth, told the outlet. Given that queer and trans youth are already disproportionately bullied, harassed, and essentially pushed out of school as it is (and especially so if they’re youth of color or disabled), this is no small point. Trans youth are already more likely to both become homeless and leave high school without a diploma; making it even harder for them to survive school is just cruel.
“As someone who comes from an already homophobic Christian environment,” one student in Fairfax County told local outlet DCist. “I do not need to, like, feel unsafe at school.”
Protests were organized by a student-led group called the Pride Liberation Project. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group is made up of students in Virginia and reportedly has more than 500 members, all of whom are LGBTQ+ or allies.
“My identity is not a political pawn to Governor Youngkin, and it should not be used as such,” Cadence Snopik, a high school senior in Henrico County who helped organize their school’s walkout, told local station VPM News. They added that as a genderqueer person, it’s been hard to see someone try to invalidate their identity.
Here are some inspiring photos and videos from the walkouts.
What now? The guidelines technically have a 30-day public comment period, where residents of Virginia can go online and submit comments on the drafted policies. The department of education is supposed to review comments before sending the final draft to the state superintendent. The open comment period began on Sept. 26.
You can catch some brief local reporting and protest footage here.
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