July 28, 2021

A judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday that sought to challenge a set of state guidelines meant to protect Virginia’s transgender students.

In a six-page opinion, Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson questioned whether the groups that filed the lawsuit would actually be impacted by the state’s suggested policies.

The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges. But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.

“This is a win and we should celebrate it for the win that it is,” said Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, an advocacy group focused on LGBTQ rights. “The work continues. We are still continuing to have these conversations because of the spread of misinformation that is out there.”

The Founding Freedoms Law Center and Christian Action Network filed separate lawsuits against the Virginia Department of Education in March after the state came up with its guidelines. The two cases were consolidated into a single lawsuit in Lynchburg Circuit Court.

The policies focus on protecting and affirming trans children, calling on schools to do things like respect their name, gender and pronouns and to let children use restrooms that match their gender. Children whose gender doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth often face discrimination and harassment, impacting their ability to succeed in school.

Kalpana Kotagal, an attorney from the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Cohen Milstein, filed a brief supporting the policies on behalf of Equality Virginia and over 50 other organizations.

“While it may at first blush kind of seem like a technical ruling, it remains a recognition or an upholding of those model policies promulgated by the Department of Education,” Kotagal said. “I think that’s a win.”

. . .

Trans rights advocates say that resistance to change hurts trans kids, and helping them feel included won’t have any negative effects on their peers.

Because of that, Kotagal said, it’s important to center policy debates on trans students.

“I think the evidence is pretty clear that’s where the harm is,” Kotagal said. “These model policies are really important to protect against that.”

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