Gov. Youngkin's model policies regarding transgender students in K-12 schools is are yet another way to forcibly out transgender students without their consent.
As a university student, an LGBTQ+ individual, a future educator, and a recent graduate of a Virginia Public Schools system, it is yet again clear to me that the parents and Republicans of Virginia students are a) out of touch with the realities of discrimination that many students face, b) don’t take kids’ voices seriously, even about issues that directly affect them, instead institutionalizing policies that affect them without their consent or direct input, c) greenlight abusive household situations with homophobic/transphobic guardians and parents, because they are willing to overlook it as long as the institutions of education allow them complete control over their child’s life even when it is harmful to the student.
Everyone in the LGBTQ+ community knows that coming out is a personal choice. Agency over how an individual portrays their gender and sexuality is as vital as agency over their body and first amendment rights. To out a person without their consent, even with friends and family, takes away that agency. It violates fundamental rights, is an abuse of power by one individual over another, and is often deeply traumatizing for the individual who was outed. The issue of forced outing goes behind even the issue of right; it is a matter of safety, and sometimes a matter of life or death.
To be blunt, as a result of Youngkin’s infuriating ignorance, people will die. Not might die, will die. Many people who do not die will end up kicked out, homeless on the streets, or physically and mentally neglected and abused by their family.
Outing a transgender student to their families is no less harmful then outing them to peers, strangers, online spaces and the public. In fact, I would argue that outing a minor to their guardians is the most serious offense and abuse of power among all of these. This is because the discrimination of a family member to a child, when it happens, is inescapable and absolute. It is no secret that a disproportionately high amount of homeless youth are queer or transgender. According to a 2014 survey* of 138 youth homelessness human service agency providers, “the most prevalent reason for homelessness among LGBTQ youth was being forced out of home or running away from home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.” The situation for trans youth was especially dire compared to their queer cisgender peers, a who were estimated to have experienced familial rejection and physical and sexual abuse at alarmingly higher rates than LGBQ youth. Transgender youth are also one of the most at-risk groups to commit suicide.**
Even beyond statistics, I have known too many people in my personal life who have experienced familial abuse over their gender and sexual orientation. My friend “H” was abused, forcibly deadnamed, and kicked out by her family when she came out as a trans woman. Another girl, “H” also, was pushed onto the streets when she was 13 or 14 before they were forced to take her back, and abused her ever since. One of my colleagues, “E,” was shunned by his entire extended family over a rumor that he might be queer. I have had many more friends, who were out at school and online, who were terrified that their parents would find out their true identity and insisted that they could never, ever come out, because they were afraid for their life. Not their safety. Their life. And yes, unfortunately, a few of these transgender and GNC individuals were nearly forced to suicide because the abuse and weaponized misgendering was all too literally too much to live with. I never, ever have to want someone go through that ever again, but unfortunately, within an entrenched conservative society and with my activity in LGBTQ+ circles, I am certain I will. I live each day hoping that friends and peers and kids I have talked to will survive another day until adulthood, and hate myself for wishing them to live with so much pain. I wish I could say these stories were uncommon. Actually, I have shocked many non-LGBTQ+ people by having conversations with other LGBTQ+ people in their presence that addressed how common these issues are. Remember, there is so much that goes unreported, or is not taken seriously by officials because of a lack of bodily harm.
Were these kids taken seriously by mainstream politicians and quoted in news sources as experts? No. They were kids, and when are the voices of students ever taken seriously? To twist the knife, according to people like Youngkin, minors are supposed to listen to their parents, including when they are abusive.
In a Loudoun County interview, Youngkin said that he “would find it very hard to argue that a parent being engaged in a child’s life is inconsistent with that child’s safety.” When an interviewer asked what he would tell transgender students with non-supportive guardians, he simply responded, “I would say, trust your parents.”
It is perhaps irrational, but I saw in that statement a reflection of every politician, adult or law enforcement official who had told the distraught friends of dead, injured and missing transgender youth similar things before the “unpreventable” tragedy occurred.
Perhaps the most important part of the controversy around Youngkin’s policy is that thousands of Virginians have been protesting in crowds, in public institutions, on streets, in community demonstrations, and on social media over said policy. These people are the students, who are the very people directly affected by all of this. They are demanding to be heard and listened to as adults, because they will have to live with the consequences. They reject any conservative media that tries to insist that they should be in school or listening to their parents, citing that free speech and right to protest are protected constitutional tenets.
They have a point. Why should children listen to the adults, if the adults don’t listen to them, even in matters of dire safety?
Youngkin does not care about kids. He cares about the votes of their parents, and keeping himself in power. He cares about appeasing the very people who facilitate the harm outlined in the former paragraphs. After all, no parent who really cares about transgender children would ever support Youngkin’s policy. Even if they claim not to be transphobic, they are willing to see other transgender youth who are not their own children undergo such treatment.
I saw a news article a few months ago that detailed that transgender youth who are accepted by their families and allowed to transition live perfectly normal and happy lives and are not particularly depressed any more than their peers. This, admittedly, made me laugh. Anyone who has ever spent time talking to trans youth knows this. It is hardly a revelation: people thrive when they are allowed to be who they are, and reveal such private information on their own terms. The parent’s role is tho be an ally and the child’s main support, not to try to make them into something they are not.
But even transgender youth with accepting families will be affected by this policy. If one discriminatory policy is put into action, it will be a springboard for other transphobic policies. Youngkin is advocating to make name changes harder at school, keep young people from participating in sports and using spaces that pertain to their their gender identity, and allow teachers to refuse to respect a student’s chosen name and pronoun on grounds of “religious” objection.
How are transgender youth supposed to focus on school and being a teenager, when they are, in the best case scenario, afraid of their rights being stripped away, and in the worst case scenario, terrified for their life?
*Choi, S.K., Wilson, B.D.M., Shelton, J., & Gates, G. (2015). Serving Our Youth 2015: The Needs and Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund.
**Natanson, Hannah. “Youngkin’s Rules for Trans Students Leave Many Teens Fearful, Despondent.” The Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2022, 6:00 AM EDT. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/09/23/virginia-transgender-youngkin-students-outing/