Sep 19, 2022 - News

Youngkin’s new transgender student policy

Illustration of columns in the colors of the transgender pride flag.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is overhauling model policies for how school districts treat transgender students, rolling back accommodations sought by the previous administration.

What’s happening: The new model policies posted online Friday say school districts should restrict students to programs and bathroom facilities that correspond to their “biological sex.”

  • The new policies would also make it difficult for students to change their names and pronouns in official school records and would bar districts from requiring staff to adhere to those changes.

Why it matters: The new policy pulls Virginia into the center of a national movement by Republican politicians to restrict the rights of transgender students.

What they’re saying: The updated policy “delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students,” Youngkin’s press secretary Macaulay Porter told the Associated Press.

The other side: “This is going to mean less protections from bullying,” Anthony Belotti, a 22-year-old LGBTQ+ college student who attended Stafford County schools, told the Washington Post.

  • “It’s going to be especially devastating for students who know what it is like to have access to support and respect, and now have that taken away from them,” Belotti added.

The big picture: Major medical organizations have condemned political efforts to restrict gender-affirming medical care, saying it could have a detrimental effect on the mental health of transgender youth.

What’s next: Youngkin’s new model policy is set to go into effect following a 30-day public comment period.

What we’re watching: Most school districts never adopted the LGBTQ+-friendly model policies advanced by former Gov. Ralph Northam, and a handful of districts openly flouted them, so it’s unclear whether many districts will feel compelled to revisit their policies as a result of Youngkin’s new mandate.

  • Under the law that enabled Northam and now Youngkin’s model policies, there’s no state enforcement mechanism should school districts fail to comply, per the Virginia Mercury,

Legal challenges are also likely.

  • Democratic Del. Danica Roem suggested in a tweet over the weekend that Youngkin’s policy violates the Virginia Human Rights Act, which passed in 2020 and extended nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ+ Virginians.
  • “If you want to break the law, then we’ll see you in court,” Roem wrote.

💭 Our thought bubble: The administration’s rollout of the policy offers a textbook example of Youngkin’s strategy of delivering dramatically different messages to different audiences.

  • Youngkin exclusively announced the policy to a right-wing national media outlet, the Daily Wire, on Friday afternoon.
  • Meanwhile, his administration never issued a press release to Virginia-based media outlets, instead emailing reporters to promote efforts to hold down college tuition costs.
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