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'Thousands of kids all across Virginia are silenced'

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Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia led a march Sept. 24 from Capitol grounds to Brown's Island.

Kayden Peddicord, 16, came out as bisexual in the sixth grade. The following year, they began to question their gender and began to identify as nonbinary.

Two years later, as a Henrico County student in the eighth grade, Kayden had a support system of their friends, parents and a teacher, “who wanted nothing more than to make sure I felt as safe as possible.” But Kayden faced discrimination from a family member and someone they considered a friend who said they were too feminine to be nonbinary.

“That time of my life was when the depression and self-loathing really started to kick in. That moment was when the world shut down,” Kayden, now an 11th grader, said Saturday at a transgender and nonbinary rights rally that drew more than drew more than 50 supporters to the Bell Tower on Capitol Square.

They went on to make friends like them and started going by the name Kayden. During their sophomore year, they became more comfortable with their gender expression.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin last week quietly released new proposed guidelines that undo 2021 Virginia Department of Education policies that protect transgender students, in order to emphasize parents' rights.

Speaking of the new model policies, Kayden said, “I am silenced.”

“Governor Youngkin says he wants to support all students, and make them feel safe, including parents in this discussion of how we should be treated in a school environment. He wants everyone heard. Instead, I am silenced. Thousands of kids all across Virginia are silenced,” Kayden said.

The 30-day public comment period for the “2022 Model Policies On The Privacy, Dignity And Respect For All Students And Parents In Virginia’s Public Schools” begins Monday.

The model policies will require students to use school bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth “except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.” The document cites the case of Grimm v. Gloucester, in which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond found in 2020 that the Gloucester County School Board violated former student Gavin Grimm’s constitutional rights when it banned him from using the boys school bathrooms.

The new policies also specify student participation in school athletics and activities shall be based on “biological sex” and require parental approval of changes to a student’s name, along with any nicknames or changes in pronouns.

Advocates gathered on Capitol grounds Saturday morning for a rally hosted by Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. The rally kicked off a month of planned action to educate and mobilize around opposing the new guidelines.

Opening up the rally, Equality Virginia's Executive Director Narissa Rahaman called the new policies “trash.”

Macaulay Porter, a Youngkin spokesperson, said in a statement Saturday: “Everyone should read the model policies because they work to put parents back in the center of children’s lives.”

Porter added: “The 2022 model policies deliver on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students."

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Some legal experts question the legality of the new policies, saying the General Assembly would have to grant authority for new guidelines. Under then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, the Department of Education enacted the 2021 model policies at the direction of legislation the General Assembly passed in 2020.

The Youngkin administration’s model guidelines repeatedly assert parents’ rights to make decisions with respect to their children’s upbringing. They cite U.S. Supreme Court rulings and a Virginia law that says: “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”

Youngkin, speaking Friday at the Texas Tribune's TribFest in Austin, said parents should be involved, especially in important matters.

“In schools today, at least in Virginia, if your child needs an aspirin, parents have to give a written note, but the school can engage in a discussion around a child’s most challenging decision,” he said.

“We must have parents at the front of the line — not at the exclusion of a trusted teacher or counselor — but parents must be the first stop for these decisions."

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who co-sponsored the state law that prompted the Northam administration's guidelines, said on Saturday, “this is not about parents' rights … and we're not even talking about the kids who don't have the support from their families. We know that is a fact.”

In Loudoun County on Tuesday, a reporter asked the governor about transgender students who are concerned that their parents don't support them.

“I would say trust your parents," Youngkin said. "At the moment where there are very difficult issues in families – challenging issues in families – families come together. And this is why, parents, in fact, have a role in their children’s lives.”

Youngkin added: “If there’s a safety issue, well then there’s legal protections for that child. If there’s a legitimate concern about the child’s safety, well then of course there’s a legal path there in order to keep the child safe.”

Christopher Berg, a Hanover County resident and father of a non-binary child, on Saturday criticized what he termed “hypocrisy” in the proposed guidelines.

“If this policy was really about parental rights, I would be able to request that the school address my child as they/them instead of just male or female," Berg said. "If this policy was really about parental rights, we wouldn't be required to provide legal documents just to have our children addressed by their chosen name at school."

After Saturday’s rally, advocates marched from the Capitol grounds to Brown’s Island for VA Pridefest.

“Pride started as a protest and will always be a protest,” Rahaman of Equality Virginia said. “We are taking this to the streets to send a message that we are here and that we will be the source of our own liberation.”

Rahaman led the march, holding a large transgender flag. Marchers chanted “Don’t Tread on Trans Kids,” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, this policy has got to go."

On Tuesday, Pride Liberation — a student-run group of queer and allied students in Virginia advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA+ students — is planning statewide walkouts by students who reject the new guidelines.

Staff reporters Dave Ress and Andrew Cain contributed to this report.

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