LGBTQ Rights

Americans United To Virginia Dept. of Ed: Religious Freedom Is Not A Right To Harm Trans Kids

  Nik Nartowicz

Across the country, state legislatures have been attacking transgender and nonbinary students. Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) decided to do so as well. Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education released model policies that would harm transgender and nonbinary kids in schools. The model policies misuse the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom as justification to erase trans and nonbinary youth from the classroom, creating a hostile and potentially dangerous school environment.

Putting transgender youth at risk.

Tragically, transgender and nonbinary youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. But when transgender and nonbinary youth have adults and peers accept their gender identity, it’s associated with significantly lower odds of attempting suicide. So it was good news when, in 2020, the Virginia legislature passed a law to create a new model policy for public school districts to maintain a safe and supportive learning environment for trans and nonbinary students. And in 2021, the state Department of Education released model policies to do just that.

Now Youngkin wants to replace the 2021 policies, undoing that progress and causing real harm to transgender and nonbinary students. Youngkin’s model policies would prohibit school employees from using a student’s preferred name and pronouns without parental approval, require school officials to “out” students to their parents in certain situations, and require schools to deny students the right to participate in sports and use bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of pushback against Youngkin’s plan. Our allies at Equality Virginia and the ACLU of Virginia have been working hard to get people to submit comments opposing them. And their efforts are working – just 3 days after the comment period opened, more than 17,000 comments with “oppose” or “opposition” in the title had been submitted.

Religious freedom is not a right to harm trans kids.

Americans United also submitted comments opposing the model policies. We explained that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom shouldn’t be used to justify the policies. We also explained that the policies actually violate the First Amendment for two reasons. First, they function as a blanket religious exemption that would impose real harm on trans and nonbinary students. But laws and policies cannot use religious beliefs to harm others – especially kids. And second, they would insert one religious viewpoint regarding trans and nonbinary people into school policies – even though the Constitution bars the government from tailoring policies to align with religious beliefs.

Submit your comments in support of protecting transgender and nonbinary students.

Policies like Youngkin’s tell transgender and nonbinary students that they’re not welcome in Virginia. But no student should ever be made to feel unwelcome at their public school. Hopefully the Virginia Department of Education will keep that in mind and reject these model policies. If you’re a Virginian, make your voice heard! Learn more about how to submit a comment here – the deadline is midnight tonight! And you can join Americans United to help us protect the rights of all kids in our public schools.

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