RICHMOND, Va. – Equality Virginia, the ACLU of Virginia, and 50 partners and school board leaders across the commonwealth filed an amicus brief on Thursday in support of Virginia’s model policies to make schools safer and inclusive for transgender students.
The brief asks the Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg to deny a March 29 request by the Christian Action Network to postpone the implementation of the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students in Virginia’s public schools.
An amicus brief, or "friend of the court," is filed by organizations or persons not directly involved in a case to provide information related to issues to help courts reach decisions.
The groups point to the negative and harmful experiences of transgender students and their families in Virginia schools as reasons why the VDOE has a compelling interest and legal purpose to propose the trans-inclusive practices.
“The VDOE guidelines aren’t just making schools more inclusive for trans and nonbinary youth, they will save lives,” said Vee Lamneck, Equality Virginia Executive Director. “We know that affirming school climates lead to improved behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes for all students. The policies use well-established best practices to help ensure schools in Virginia are welcoming and safe learning environments for all students, while helping districts stay in compliance with state and federal laws.”
The VDOE released model policies last March that all local school boards must adopt as a baseline by the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 to create the guidelines.
This week’s brief includes student and family experiences showing the need for model policies to avoid the harm caused by segregated facilities and a lack of trans-inclusive practices. The accounts detail examples of discrimination, physical violence and isolation in Virginia schools.
“Courts have long recognized the profound harm and long-term impact that occurs when transgender students are differentiated and separated from their peers. The model policies put forward by the VDOE will play a critical role in stopping that harm,” said Kalpana Kotagal, Partner at civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “These policies go beyond just shielding students from an abusive environment by creating an inclusive space where all students are treated equally and given the opportunity to learn and grow.”
“The courts have ruled time and again that transgender students should be protected from discrimination, and the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies simply affirm these rulings,” said Eden Heilman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Virginia. “No student deserves to be misgendered or denied equal access to gender-specific facilities and activities. The new statewide guidance will make sure every student is treated with fairness and dignity – no matter who they are or where they live.”
According to GLSEN, transgender students are more likely than all other students to have negative experiences at school. A 2017 report from the organization found that 75% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school. But another GLSEN study also found that students were less likely to experience discrimination at schools with supportive transgender and nonbinary policies.
Groups signing on to the amicus brief include:
Arlington Gender Identity Allies (AGIA)
Black Pride RVA
Black Transmen Inc.
Diversity in Recovery
Equality Loudoun Inc.
Fairfax County Public Schools Pride
Fairfax Pride Liberation Project
Garden of Peace, Inc.
He She Ze and We
Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia
NRV Trans Support & NRV Trans Support- Youth & Families
Peter’s Place RVA
PFLAG Blue Ridge
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia
Rappahannock Region Transgender Support (RRTS)
Richmond Triangle Players
Rockbridge LGBTQIA+ Alliance
Scaffolding Advocacy and Inclusive Leadership, Inc.
Shenandoah LGBTQ Center
Side by Side
Southeastern Transgender Resource Center
Suffolk LGBT Center of Hampton Roads
Transgender Assistance Program Virginia
Transgender Education Association of Greater Washington
Us Giving Richmond Connections
Virginia Anti-Violence Project
Virginia Council on LGBTQ+
Virginia Equality Bar Association
The Honorable Judy Le (Albemarle County)
The Honorable Ellen Osborne (Albemarle County)
The Honorable Barbara J. Kanninen (Chair, Arlington County)
The Honorable Cristina Diaz-Torres (Arlington County)
The Honorable David Priddy (Arlington County)
The Honorable Lisa Larson-Torres (Chair, Charlottesville City)
The Honorable Karl V. Frisch (Fairfax County)
The Honorable Laura Downs (Vice Chair, Falls Church City)
The Honorable Greg Anderson (Falls Church City)
The Honorable Sonia Ruiz-Bolanos (Falls Church City)
The Honorable Tanya K. Bhasin (Norfolk City)
The Honorable Elizabeth Warner (Stafford County)
About Equality Virginia
Equality Virginia is the leading advocacy organization in Virginia seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. EV is building a fully inclusive Commonwealth by educating, empowering, and mobilizing Virginians to ensure all LGBTQ people are free to live, love, learn, and work. For more information, visit www.equalityvirginia.org.