STATEMENT: NASW Virginia Chapter Opposes Gov. Youngkin’s Proposed Anti-Trans Student Policies

The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes the proposed policies released September 16 by Governor Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) that would reverse current policies protecting Virginia’s estimated 4,000-plus transgender students. Trans students have done nothing wrong and shouldn’t be treated as if they have.

The proposed policies include

  • an immediate requirement that trans students in kindergarten through grade 12 use school bathrooms matching their birth-assigned sex;

  • a ban on trans students from sport teams and programs based on their preferred—rather than biological—sex; and

  • a student privacy infringement and school administrative burden of obtaining parental approval for any name changes by a student such as pronouns or nicknames.

The proposals fly in the face of actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly only two years ago that required VDOE to develop model policies protecting the rights of transgender students. VDOE released these new policies in 2021, reiterating that school divisions must adopt policies that are equal to or stronger than those of the department.

Many school divisions quickly did so, while others—such as Rockingham County Public Schools (RCPS)—simply expanded their nondiscrimination policies to cover sex and gender identity instead.

However, the rights of transgender students have continued to be attacked even before Youngkin’s surprise move September 16 to roll back these policies. In May, for instance, RCPS Board member Matt Cross introduced a policy to require teachers to notify administrators of any student’s request to change their name or pronoun; schools then would be forced to contact the student’s parents. The proposed Cross policy also would mandate parental permission for any student asking to be called a name other than what is entered in the PowerSchool account.

While NASW Virginia Chapter respects a parent’s desire to be kept updated on important academic issues of their children, we as social workers do not support forced “outing” of transgender students due to the high risks to mental health and physical safety.

According to a 2017 State Survey of the National Center for Transgender Equality, 80% of responding Virginia trans students reported they had “experienced some form of mistreatment such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted due to their transgender status.” Specifically, 51% of trans students who were out or considered transgender in grades kindergarten to 12 were verbally harassed, 21% were attacked physically, and 12% were sexually assaulted.

Why don’t trans students turn more for help from school resource officers? Because police harassment is a frequent complaint. The Virginia study found that in the past year, of those trans youth who interacted with law enforcement, 47% “experienced some form of mistreatment,” leading nearly half of trans youth overall to say they would be “uncomfortable” asking for police assistance.

Trans students are especially fearful of potential physical harm in bathrooms. The Virginia survey noted that more than half (52%) of respondents “avoided using a public restroom in the past year because of fear of confrontations or other problems they might experience,” and 23% of respondents limit the amount they drink or eat to avoid using the restroom.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control confirms the fallout from such violence and trauma: Trans students experience higher rates of depression, suicide, high school dropout, and teenage homelessness. This leads to more school absences and higher levels of adverse educational and health outcomes that persist into adulthood, according to NASW. Trans youth already are disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed with depression and substance abuse compared to those who are heterosexual, according to the Institute of Medicine.

These poor academic and mental health outcomes are often further exacerbated by reactions of unsupportive families. An NASW policy for social workers working with LGBTQ individuals, including children and adolescents, cites data showing that many trans minors who are out—either by choice or force—"become homeless due to family abuse, neglect, conflict over their identity, or being forced to leave a foster or group home because of mistreatment or harassment.” Indeed, in 2012, the Federal Bur