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 Bureau of Investigation attributed 21% of all hate crimes by strangers or people known to the victims to sexual orientation bias.
The pain caused by policies that continue to systematize discrimination are especially true for minority trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer youth and can lead to drastic actions. Research released in August by the Trevor Project, the largest LGBTQ suicide prevention organization in America, found that one in five multiracial LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year.
Multiracial trans students, in particular, reported a 10% higher rate of suicide ideation and 30% more suicide attempts than their peers. Overall, a heartbreaking 48% of multiracial LGBTQ youth said they seriously considered suicide in the past year.
Social workers, including those in schools, operate under an NASW Code of Ethics that demands we advocate against discrimination of all types. We witness firsthand the daily impacts of harassment, violence, and familial rejection on youth, especially those who are LGBTQ, and we advocate for more, not fewer, protections for all trans youth, in addition to adults.
We hope that, if adopted, Youngkin’s extreme policies will be challenged in court and by the Virginia General Assembly, as many predict. NASW Virginia will support those challenges. It is disconcerting that the Youngkin administration would take such action when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia already ruled in favor of protecting the transgender student rights in the 2020 Gavin Grimm case, which covered use of bathrooms and facilities that align with gender identity. That ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in August 2020. Must we repeat a battle to have all children respected, taught, and protected equally?
Schools should not be hostile environments for trans students, nor should the lives and safety of transgender youths and adults be pawns in political games and personal ambitions. As the largest behavioral health group in Virginia and the nation, we social workers see the lifelong outcomes that can follow such antics and infringement on personal rights. Stop this now.
We call on all Virginia social workers and others to submit their opinions and recommendations during the VDOE 30-day comment period, which begins Monday, September 26 at its online regulatory town hall.