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Virginia set to reverse trans students' rights in public schools

Debate over transgender rights in schools
Debate over transgender rights in schools 02:17

Christiansburg, Virginia — The mass shooting at a club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has reignited concerns in the LGBTQ community over safety and discrimination. More than half of states in the U.S. have little to no protections for transgender people, and as early as next week, Virginia could reverse its limited rights in public schools.  

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration has proposed a new policy that has protections against discrimination and bullying but would require parental permission to change names or pronouns at school. It also would require students to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex assigned at birth, except to the extent that federal law requires.  

The move to rollback policies implemented under Virginia's former governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, has led to a heated public debate, eliciting more than 71,000 comments during the public comment period.  

Dozens of speakers also sounded off during an hours-long Virginia Board of Education meeting on Oct. 20.

Sarah Via, among the parents in attendance, argues the new policy bolsters parental rights.  

"You cannot have a good quality of education or mental health with excluding the parent from the process," she said.  

Opponents of Youngkin's proposal argue schools have become safe spaces for transgender students and the new policy would put that at risk.  

"Now our teachers, our principals, our counselors get the training and the information they need in order to accommodate kids like Bettie," said Courtney Thomas, whose 11-year-old child, Bettie Thomas, identifies as non-binary and uses the pronounces "zie" and "zir." 

Bettie said the children's book "I am Jazz," which tells the story of a transgender child, sparked a conversation about gender when Bettie was 7. 

Bettie described it as a "breakthrough" after years of "complete anger" and "confusion."  

"As soon as Bettie had words to describe what zie was feeling, zie was able to start moving toward a more authentic life," Courtney said. 

Courtney said accommodating school policies allowed Bettie to thrive in the classroom, as well as at home.  

"That decision that I made changed my life so much," Bettie said. 

The Thomas family is most worried about the students who don't have support from their parents.  

The new policy won't go into effect until approved and finalized by the state superintendent, according to a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.  

While the Virginia state code asks school districts to enforce school policies of the commonwealth, there's not an enforcement mechanism, meaning some schools may choose not to comply.  

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