by Robert Norris Rigby, a teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools and the leader of FCPS Pride
Come 2020, Virginia could finally pass legislation – we hope! – to protect trans students. A new bill for the 2020 General Assembly session, HB145 by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax/Falls Church), will mandate that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) develop guidelines about how schools should welcome transgender students, and that all school systems have a policy in place by the 2021-22 school year.
Many school districts in Virginia already include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies, and several have adopted (or are developing) plans detailing the ways in which trans students are to be welcomed and included in their school systems. HB145 lays out a framework for the sort of guidelines VDOE should develop for school systems. If the bill is passed, the community input process will be important to ensure that the actual guidelines and policies follow best practices for our students. These best practices, by the way, can be found in hundreds of similar policies implemented in dozens of states over the past two decades. In other words, Virginia is not setting trends here, but instead is finally catching up to best practices around the country.
To highlight what’s at stake here, consider this recent comment from a parent of a transgender child in Virginia:
“Imagine that over three years in school you develop routines and adaptations about where and when you can go to the bathroom safely, without bothering anyone else. Then your school hires a new principal who takes away one of the two bathrooms that you can use, and locates the other where it is inaccessible to you. You have to not eat and drink in school now, and “hold it” until you get home. That principal doesn’t understand. This is what happened to our son. Virginia needs to have a uniform policy for gender diverse students.”
Or how about this, by a leader of a support group for parents of trans kids:
“Parents seek support for the kids, how to protect them, and how to navigate the school system. These parents fear for their kids when they are at school, feat of bullying, of not drinking enough water so they not have to use the restroom, of not wanting to go to school at all, and the fear that their kids may not want to live anymore.”
Or this statement from a trans person:
“Being transgender is hard, but we are sure of our gender. I knew when I was 6, but it took me years of fear and pain to find my way. Transgender kids today have the opportunity to live without those years of fear and pain.”
All of these people, and many more like them, are hoping fervently that the General Assembly enacts HB145, starting the process of Virginia setting policies in schools that make getting an education possible for transgender binary and non-binary students.