The 2022 Model Policies are going to significantly harm trans students. The 2022 Model Policies define being a trans student as “a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs from his or her sex, that their child be identified while at school.” It takes the power away from trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students from realizing their identity in their own right and instead defines it in terms of parents’ views. It also refers to gender identity as a “belief” instead of a deeply held knowledge and realization of one’s identity. This promotes a false narrative based on a lack of scientifically-based research. It also erases the identity of nonbinary and intersex people by operating on a male/female binary.
The 2022 Model Policies also remove sexual orientation and gender identity as explicitly protected classes for bullying, harassment, and discrimination. At the same time, it eliminates specific school personnel professional development for the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ students.
Outside of this, the 2022 Model Policies dangerously require misgendering and deadnaming trans students when the student’s preferred name and pronouns are not accurately reflected on student records. Some studies have shown that use of a trans student’s preferred name not only assists with social transition, but also reduces mental health risks such as depression, and suicidal ideation and attempts. https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(18)30085-5/fulltext.
Trans students are also placed in danger of being outed. The 2021 Model Policies allowed disclosure, with a legitimate educational interest, only to other school personnel. The 2022 Model Policies permit disclosure, with a legitimate educational interest or when required by law, to other school personnel and the student’s parents. Many times, students feel safer coming out to school staff instead of their own parents. I believe the choice should rest with the trans student on who they would like to come out to.
Outing can be dangerous. “28% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability.” https://www.thetrevorproject.org/research-briefs/homelessness-and-housing-instability-among-lgbtq-youth-feb-2022/. These rates are disproportionately greater for non-white LGBTQ+ youth. Id. Further, “[h]omelessness and housing instability were reported at higher rates among transgender and nonbinary youth, including 38% of transgender girls/women, 39% of transgender boys/men, and 35% of nonbinary youth, compared to 23% of cisgender LGBQ youth.” Id. 16% of LGBTQ+ youth report running away because of fears of abuse, 14% report they were kicked out or abandoned, and 40% of those report being kicked out or abandoned because of their LGBTQ+ identity. Id. Despite making up 5-10% of the United States’ population, LGBTQ+ individuals make up 20-40% of the homeless population. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6695950/. LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans youth, are also overrepsented in the foster care system compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. https://www.childrensrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2019.02.12-LGBTQ-Youth-in-Unstable-Housing-and-Foster-Care.pdf.
Trans youth face higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts compared with their cisgender peers. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0886260520915554. This is not because of the fact that they are trans. Countless false narratives are circulating the media and the public comment section for the 2022 Model Policies that being trans or part of the LGBTQ+ community itself leads to worse mental health outcomes. Instead, many of the contributing factors to this phenomenon are attributable to the societal treatment of trans individuals such as “microaggressions, internalized self-stigma, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and protective factors: school belonging, family support, and peer support . . . ” Id. In fact, major professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics are in consensus that being trans itself is not a mental illness, but conditions caused by the societal treatment of trans individuals–such as depression, anxiety, and gender dysphoria–are preventable. See, e.g., Brief of Am. Acad. of Pediatrics et al. at 8-9, Parents for Privacy v. Barr, 949 F.3d 1210 (9th Cir. 2020) (No. 18-35708), 2019 WL 1261905. VDOE can and should do more to address the societal discrimination of trans students instead of contributing to it.
The 2022 Model Policies also require sex segregation of facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms based on “biological sex.” While the 2022 Model Policies permit school districts to modify the policies “to the extent required by federal law,” the baseline is already in conflict with federal law. First of all, these requirements conflict with federal law. See Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., 972 F.3d 586, 613-15, 616-19 (4th Cir. 2020) (the court reasoning that trans discrimination for bathroom access based on biological sex failed both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution as well as Title IX); see also https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/t9nprm-factsheet.pdf. Second of all, lack of trans students’ access to facilities corresponding with their gender identity can result in urinary tract infections, alienation, humiliation, suicidal ideation, and hospitalization. See, e.g., Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., 972 F.3d 586, 600 (4th Cir. 2020).
Sadly, the damage from VDOE has already been done. Anti-trans legislation and policies exacerbate trans peoples’ feeling of hopelessness and contribute to lower levels of feeling like they belong. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/sgd-sgd0000481.pdf. VDOE is actively disparately impacting trans students and adults simply by the introduction of these transphobic policies. On the other hand, studies have shown that stronger LGBTQ+ protections in the law are associated with lower levels of bullying. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037687162100154X. More LGBTQ+-inclusive state policies and legislation are also tied to better results in trans students’ physical health. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/trgh.2018.0031.
Further, respecting trans students’ preferred names, as opposed to deadnaming, improves their mental health and lowers suicidal ideation and attempts. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18300855. Trans students are nearly twice as likely to be threatened or harmed compared to other students. https://www.veanea.org/support-transgender-youth/. Outing to trans students’ parents and other school personnel will only exacerbate this.
I appreciate that VDOE has provided resources on school connectedness as some studies show that school-connectedness is associated with better mental health outcomes for trans students. https://www.veanea.org/support-transgender-youth/. However, removing explicit protections for bullying, harassment, and discrimination for LGBTQ+ students, LGBTQ+ specific annual training for school personnel, and the over sixty resources from the 2021 Model Policies undermines this principle.
Scientific evidence shows that VDOE has already harmed trans peoples’ mental health, trans students in particular. Scientific evidence also shows that the 2022 Model Policies will only worsen that trend. Many trans students are going to not just suffer worse mental health outcomes but die because of the 2022 Model Policies. I ask VDOE and the Virginia state government to think critically about if that is the right price to pay for “parental rights.”
I myself have experienced and witnessed so many of the issues presented above, and I ask the Virginia Department of Education to recognize my experiences, and the experiences of my community, during your deliberations. Decades ago, Virginia was confronted with the reality that racial segregation and discrimination in educational settings was wrong - and far too often, Virginia came to those realizations later than most. I ask you all to love Virginia as I do, and to see our State's potential here to recognize our past and its many mistakes, and to aim for a brighter future. Reject gender-based segregation and discrimination here and now, and allow our State to finally be on the right side of history - I have no doubt that your grandchildren will thank you for it. Put Virginia's children first - especially her transgender children.