Some students in Virginia are protesting a proposed transgender policy from the Virginia Department of Education.
At a Virginia Beach school board meeting last week, roughly 20 students spoke out about their personal experiences, as well as the experiences of their peers, and how they would be impacted by the new policy.
The policy would ban trans students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and would require parents to approve name or pronoun changes. Parents would also be "fully informed" by school personnel of a child's well-being, including their "health, and social and psychological development," according to the policy details.
The Virginia Department of Education said in a statement that these model policies, "support positive and safe learning environments for all students while respecting the rights and values of parents."
Some critical of the policy accuse it of being discriminatory against transgender students and threatening their safety and well-being at school and at home, where their gender identity may not be known or accepted.
One nonbinary student named Joey, whose preferred pronouns are "they/them," said they told their coming out story to the school board to help convince them to vote against the new policies.
"[Joey] isn't the name I was born with or even started high school with but it's who I am," said Joey. "I realized that I'm extremely lucky because I had multiple friends, teachers and staff who showed me how easy it was to accept me as me."
Joey said the new policies would ruin that safety for other transgender and nonbinary students.
"These new model policies would rip that safety and stability away from me along with hundreds of other students," Joey said. "I know it's really hard to understand, but I need you guys to understand the anxiety I feel every time I walk into class and see that there's a substitute teacher, and I don't know what name they're gonna say."
Another student named AJ applauded the old policies and denounced the new ones.
"I would have never fathomed being able to come out and speak in front of all of you without the support of teachers and peers within my school, as well as the support and safety that the 2021 policies have allowed me to have. The 2022 model policies however, send me and other gender diverse students a strong message of hate and rejection," AJ said at the board hearing.
"So many people within my school have allowed me to realize that it is not only okay for me to be myself, but it is a cause for celebration," AJ added.
Students also highlighted research that shows that transgender and nonbinary students are already more likely to face bullying, mental health issues and suicidal ideations due to discrimination based on their identities, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other studies.
Virginia Beach's Deaprtment of Education said it is currently reviewing public comments on the policies before being finalized by the superintendent of public instruction.