NORFOLK, Va. — A new law requiring school divisions across Virginia to expand policies to protect transgender students is meeting backlash in Hampton Roads.
Chesapeake School Board members rejected policy changes on Monday. Then on Tuesday night, the Virginia Beach School Board postponed its vote.
The deadline to adopt the policy is approaching fast.
State Superintendent James Lane notified school divisions to adopt the Virginia Department of Education’s transgender policy back in April.
“The rule was to have these policies in place before school starts and school starts like next week,” said LGBT Life Center Director Stacie Walls.
The set protections for transgender students are required by a state law passed in 2020.
The policy allows students to use pronouns they identify with, participate in gender-specific sports, use locker rooms and bathrooms according to their chosen gender, etc.
“These kids need to feel validated, and they need to feel a part of their school experience,” Walls said.
Walls said the policies are basic human rights.
“You expect this level of respect, and so the fact that trans youth and non-binary youth have to fight for this is alarming and frustrating,” Walls said.
This week many parents at the Chesapeake and Virginia Beach School Board meetings asked board members to reject the policy.
Chesapeake Board Chair Victoria Proffitt said the board heard a lot of pushback from the community. She said the board did approve to include language in its discrimination policy that prohibits bullying or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Having a policy that says somebody will not be harassed or discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity, that is the low bar,” Walls said.
Walls said transgender students are paying attention to the discussions.
“School boards need to be conscious of what it says to students when you delay it, and when you have a lot of dialogue and rhetoric about it,” Walls said. “Be aware that students are hearing it and the consequence of that is they interpret that as, 'Are they even valid.' That is problematic for our youth.”
She’s begging school divisions to rethink the policies. She said it might just save a student’s life.
“It is a very scary thing to worry about whether or not your child is going to have anxiety, depression, or suicidal tendencies because of how they are treated,” Walls said.
On Thursday night, Newport News School Board members will take up a second discussion about the state’s transgender policy. The board originally rejected the policy last week.
There are no penalties if school divisions decide not to adopt VDOE's transgender policy. But in a July memo, State Superintendent James Lane notified school leaders they could face lawsuits from families.