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Asked about transgender student privacy policies, Youngkin says schools have 'obligation' to keep parents informed

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at the West End Islamic Center
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at the West End Islamic Center in Glen Allen in May 2022. Youngkin told a reporter this week that schools "have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed" after he was asked about a model state education policies regarding transgender students' rights. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

In Virginia, some school districts prohibit teachers, counselors and other school staff from sharing a transgender student’s gender identity with their parents, if the student doesn’t give permission. 

When asked if he thought the state Board of Education would make a new policy regarding gender identity, Gov. Glenn Youngkin told 7 News in Arlington this week that he believes parents should be informed on “the most important decisions about their children.”  

“I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed about what's happening in their kids' lives,” Youngkin said. 

The board has existing model policies regarding the treatment of transgender students, which a 2020 state law required school districts to adopt by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Several LGBTQ+ students, parents and organizations were consulted during the policies' writing. 

“Protecting transgender students’ privacy is critical to ensuring that they are treated consistent with their gender identity and minimizing the risk of harm to the students,” the policy states.  

It also notes that transgender students without supportive homes are particularly at risk when their privacy is compromised, and it cites a 2017 study that found LGBTQ+ students had a 120% higher risk of homelessness than heterosexual and cisgender students. 

Narissa Rahaman, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Equality Virginia, told VPM News the policy is essential — though only about 10% of school districts met the 2021 implementation deadline. 

“There are a number of reasons why ... coming out is so important,” Rahaman said. “Because it is a private matter that we often first choose to disclose to people who we feel safe with and who we trust.” 

She said disclosing a transgender students’ gender identity before they’re ready to share — outing the student — can pose safety risks. 

“Not every LGBTQ student comes from a supportive family,” Rahaman said.  

She said Youngkin’s statement “shows a complete lack of understanding of the lived experience of LGBTQ+ youth in Virginia,” but said Equality Virginia will attempt to engage with his office on the policy.

“We’ll definitely be reaching out to the governor’s office to see if we can set up a meeting, so he can actually hear directly from LGBTQ students about their lived experience and what it’s like navigating K-12 schools,” Rahaman said. 

When asked for comment, the governor’s spokesperson referred VPM News back to his original statement on the issue. 

Some districts that adopted the model policy are now the subject of litigation. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed an “anti-LGBT hate group,” is representing parents and teachers in Harrisonburg City Public Schools in a lawsuit against the district for “usurping parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their children and forcing school staff to violate their religious beliefs by affirming the board’s view on gender identity,” according to a press release