The Virginia Department of Education’s new draft transgender policies received over 20,000 comments on Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the 30-day public comment period.

Comments on the “Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” document include both support and opposition, and often show strong feeling about the policies.

“We support this policy! God bless Governor Youngkin,” commenter Heather West wrote. “As a parent of six school aged children, I am grateful that Gov Youngkin has chosen to go to bat for us. It is brave to stand up against the tyranny of the rainbow crowd. Onward with more policies that promote REAL education and not social indoctrination. God bless us all as we work to restore truth to our educational institutions.”

Commenter Matthew Dillon II said he opposed the policies: “My opinion would be that kids have rights over their identities. If my kid likes football and hates history, I cannot as a parent demand the school kick my kid off the football team and load up his studies on Ancient Roman provinces. I can encourage them to take an interest, and expose them to things I hope will spark some curiosity, but I can’t demand it. If I can’t force what my kids must enjoy, I certainly cannot command who they are.”

One anonymous comment said, “Support this move. Need to still consider how to handle transphobic parents keep trans kids safe.”

Elected officials commented too. Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11) addressed Governor Glenn Youngkin: “The research is clear. The data does not lie. If Virginia moves ahead with this policy — one that mandates school environments that are inherently unwelcoming and unaccepting of LGBTQ youth — trans and nonbinary students in our Commonwealth will face a significantly greater risk of suicide than their peers. Rather than do all you can to keep Virginia students alive and well, you are headed down a path of guaranteed pain and heartache for this already vulnerable group of young people.”

Comments can be entered anonymously, and many comments appear to be identical quotes from other comments, although it isn’t unusual for lobbyist organizations to share sample comments for their followers to use in public comment.

The White House Weighs In

Although President Joe Biden didn’t use the comment form, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did address the controversy after a Tuesday briefing on Hurricane Ian. Students across Virginia staged walkouts Tuesday, and a reporter asked Jean-Pierre if the administration supported the students.

“So I haven’t seen those reports, but you know, this is a president that supports the LGBTQI+ community and has been supporting that community for some time now, as a vice president, as senator, and certainly as president now,” she said.

“He believes transgender youth should be allow to be able to go to schools freely, to be able to express themselves freely, to be able to have the protections that they need to be who they are,” Jean-Pierre said.

Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter fired back on Twitter: “It’s clear that she hasn’t read the policy & is trying to mislead Americans. The guidelines make it clear that when parents are included, schools will accommodate the requests of their families. Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, it’s that simple.”

Next Steps

According to Virginia statute, agency guidance documents like the model policies must have a 30-day comment period before becoming effective. Then, all they will need is approval from Youngkin-appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, according to VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle. However, the code section governing guidance documents says that if a written comment received during the 30-day period claims the guidance violates state laws or regulations, the effective date of the document is delayed for another 30-day period and the agency is required to respond to the commenter making the claim through certified mail or by publishing a response.

Some commenters appeared to make similar claims about the draft model policies.

State Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) commented, “On behalf of my constituents in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties and transgender school children throughout the Commonwealth, I register my intense opposition to this proposed policy. In addition to potentially violating both the Virginia Human Rights Act and Sections 22.1-23.3. of the Code of Virginia that directs school districts to adopt policies that are respectful and inclusive of transgender students, this proposed policy is hurtful and cruel.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Protest for Trans Rights” by Ted Eytan. CC BY-SA 2.0.