Controversy continues over Virginia’s new transgender model policies

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 10:44 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Governor Youngkin’s new model policies for transgender students continue stirring controversy here at home.

Three people have been arrested during two Roanoke County School Board meetings in July and August. Though no one was arrested during Thursday’s meeting, people showed up in support and against the policies.

There were two peaceful demonstrations before Roanoke County’s School Board Meeting Thursday afternoon, one led by students who say they don’t feel safe after the board adopted VDOE’s new model policies for transgender students.

“It feels harder to go and open up to the schools without worry about prosecution of anything that I say,” said Roanoke County Public Schools student Daniel Brewer. “It feels very unwelcoming to open up and confess about thoughts and feelings of that sort of nature.

The prayer demonstration was led by CommUNITY Church in Salem. Senior Pastor Tom McCracken says they support parental rights.

“According to Deuteronomy chapter 11, the responsibility is completely on the parents to raise up their child in their house while they’re walking, while they’re sitting, while they’re laying down,” said McCracken.

The policies require schools to notify parents when a student identifies as transgender. The student’s gender at birth must be used for school activities. Students must be referred to by the names and pronouns in their official records unless a parent approves otherwise. Teachers and staff also have the right to refuse to use pronouns or names they are not comfortable with.

One by one, students, parents and community members expressed their gratitude and disappointment in the board. Of the 21 who spoke, 15 were against the policies and 6 were in favor.

“The parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of their children,” said Roanoke County resident LaVania Harrell. Harrell said she was quoting Virginia Code 1-240.1.

“Thank you for holding the line for our fundamental rights,” added Harrell as she addressed the board.

“When religion and government become intertwined it can lead to the erosion of freedoms,” said Roanoke County resident Decca Knight. “Your job is to protect all of our students from discrimination. So, please do so.”

Board members ended the meeting by thanking everyone for expressing their opinions. But said they will continue to uphold the policies.

“Just want to say this board will continue to stand with the state on the transgender policy we adopted,” said board member Cheryl Facciani. “And for those boards who haven’t adopted them the AG’s office is addressing them.”

During a visit to Roanoke, WDBJ7 asked Attorney General Jason Miyares if there were consequences for not adopting the policies.

“The way the law is written is that parents can bring an action in this school district and others,” explained Miyares. “Our office will evaluate every single claim brought by any parent on a case-by-case basis and we will stand ready, willing, and able to participate.”

According to Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the Commonwealth, Roanoke, Pulaski, Pittsylvania and Spotsylvania counties have accepted the governor’s policy. Amherst County didn’t adopt it, and other school districts like Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William County have said they will reject the policies.

You can watch the full school board meeting here: