Schools and Learning

A Va. School District’s Policy On Transgender Students Exposes The Cruelty Of Christian Nationalism

  Rob Boston

Anti-Transgender Policy Exposes Cruelty

The first duty of public education is to ensure that all students feel welcome and valued – and thus ready to learn. Most schools do a great job at this, but sometimes school boards fall under the control of Christian nationalists and lose sight of job one.

A case in point is Hanover County, Va., where the school board seems determined to make life as miserable as possible for transgender students.

In a column in The Washington Post, Jessica Johnson, a visiting scholar of religious studies at the College of William & Mary, writes that the Hanover board has adopted a policy that “criminalizes and pathologizes transgender students. Effectively, it denies the possibility of a student being trans without parental, medical, legal and educational authorization.” (The article may be behind a paywall for non-subscribers.)

The policy was put in place after a pressure campaign led by right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Johnson writes of community members who didn’t even try to pretend there was a secular rationale for the policy, including one parent who said, “I am a Christian. … My faith says that God created us male and female. This is the God that makes no mistakes. For Christians to go along with this transgender lie is disrespectful to my God. Sin is sin and I will not call it anything other.”

Backed by the Family Foundation, a statewide Christian nationalist group, parents waved signs reading “Protect Every Kid” at public meetings, feeding a common – and baseless – right-wing trope that transgender youth are somehow a threat to their peers. (In fact, studies show that transgender young people are more often the victims than the perpetrators of violence.)

The board’s newest appointment, Johnny Redd, has vowed to block “ungodly” policies, boasting, “A biblical worldview will be the lens that I use to analyze policies and curriculum. … I am not going to … allow an evil tide to carry THE CHILDREN to a point where they are brainwashed.”

To craft its policies, the board is working alongside Alliance Defending Freedom, a large, well-funded Christian nationalist legal group that is a key member of a Christian nationalist Shadow Network of far-right groups that are working to tear down church-state separation.

As Johnson notes, policies such as the one in Hanover are designed to stifle select voices and deny the validity of certain lived experiences. These policies send a strong message to transgender students that not only are they not valued, but their existence is also not even acknowledged.

In Hanover County, Christian nationalists are giving us a glimpse of the America they would like to build. Take a good look – and then join Americans United in fighting it every step of the way.

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