Students across Fairfax County protest proposed policies limiting transgender student rights

Across Fairfax County and Virginia, thousands of students walked out today (Tuesday) in protest of proposed state policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Students from more than 90 schools, including nearly 30 in Fairfax County, took a stand against policies introduced earlier this month by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin regulating everything from which bathroom a student can use to the definition of “the phrase ‘transgender student.’”

The walkout protests were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization that advocates for the LQBTQ+ community in schools. The group aims to persuade the governor to revoke the draft policies, which are now open for public comment through Oct. 26.

Since the policies were announced more than a week ago, local school districts, board members, and elected officials have questioned and overwhelmingly come out against policies that would severely curtail the rights of and support that school districts can give transgender students.

Fairfax County Public Schools said last week that it was “reviewing” the proposed policies and reiterated a commitment to supporting LGBTQ students.

Today, though, it was students’ turn to make their voices heard.

At West Potomac High School in Belle Haven, an estimated 1,000 students walked out at 10 a.m. in protest. They filed into bleachers on the football field, while speakers shared their experiences and why they personally would be affected by the new policies.

“As a trans [person], I have been discriminated against for my gender identity and was told it was wrong. That I was wrong,” said a West Potomac High School senior. “These policies are just a new case of this happening.”

“I can’t be a student if I don’t know what name my teacher is going to call me,” said another student.

Mara Surovell, one of the lead organizers for the West Potomac High School walkout, hopes it will encourage Youngkin to not implement the policies or, at the very least, allow school districts the authority to continue to implement their own guidance.

“Most of my friends are transgender and my sister is also transgender. So it affects all people I love. And I don’t want any of my friends to feel like school is an unsafe place,” Surovell told FFXnow. “I don’t want to see…their mental health plummet because of these policies, and I really just want them to feel safe and loved, and I don’t think that’ll happen if these policies get approved.”

Students involved in walkouts at South Lakes High School in Reston and Marshall High School in Idylwood shared similar thoughts.

Rishi Chandra, a South Lakes junior, said that he has personally seen how well trans and nonbinary students can do in school when they feel safe, but if the new policies get approved, they will “harm queer students.”

“I definitely see a lot of queer students, especially trans students, flunking school, getting bad grades,” Chandra said. “I also think the self-harm and suicide rates will go up, along with depression and mental health crises.”

It’s well documented that transgender youth struggle more often with their mental health. A survey from May found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth have considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Rayan Afif, who organized the Marshall walkout, said, if adopted, the guidelines would “ruin the relatively safe environment” they have at school. While most of their teachers use their name and some use their pronouns, that isn’t the case at home.

“Once the revisions are in place, everything will change. I will be forced to use a name and pronouns that do not align with me,” they said. “Additionally, if my parents are contacted due to any suspicion that I am queer, it could cause more tension in my family environment.”

The new proposed restrictions go against established policies in Fairfax County, as well as neighboring jurisdictions Arlington and Alexandria. In fact, it appeared at West Potomac High School that administrators and staff were not only supportive of the walkout, but helped with its organization.

Several students reported feeling safe and supported by their school teachers and staff as well as FCPS as a whole, but they fear that this won’t continue if Fairfax County is forced to adopt these policies.

“Our school system is pretty accepting of transpeople and [FCPS policy] guarantees we can use our names and pronouns. I’m so thankful for that,” said a West Potomac student. “Growing up and going to school is not supposed to be easy and it’s definitely not easy when you are in the wrong body. That’s why it’s so frightening that our government — the people who claim they want to protect us — are willing to take away the safeguards that protect the vulnerable.”

Others expressed their gratitude to FCPS and their schools for “teaching me that my preference when it comes to my pronouns is completely valid,” as another West Potomac High student said.

At the same time, Rayan says FCPS could come out more forcefully in opposing Youngkin’s proposal.

“I’d like to see FCPS more distinctly support queer and trans students, and to make as much noise as we’re making — whether that’s through amplifying our voices or otherwise,” Rayan said. “I’d like to see them talk to trans and queer students who this will effect most.”

A number of local officials showed up at the schools in support of the students, including state senators Scott Surovell and Adam Ebbin.

Ebbin told FFXnow that it was “inspiring” to see students protest.

“It’s inspiring that these kids are standing up for themselves and for their peers against some really cruel and hateful proposed policies,” Ebbin said.”It gives me faith in the next generation that things can get better in this country.”

He believes that these policies explicitly violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, and there’s a clear basis for a lawsuit.

“I think the governor’s legal counsel or the attorney general or whoever advised him that he might get away with this needs to go back to law school,” he said.

Whatever does happen, it’s clear that a number of Fairfax County students who fear what these new policies could mean not just for them, but for the future.

“For transgender underclassmen, middle schoolers and, even preschoolers, they would have to go through being misgendered for years,” the West Potomac High senior said. “I want all trans students to be able to openly share who they really are, their real name, real pronouns, and real gender.”

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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