‘Thousands of kids all across Virginia are silenced’

Kayden Peddicord, 16, came out as bisexual in sixth grade. The following year, they began to question their gender and began identifying as non-binary.

Two years later, as an eighth-grade student in Henrico County, Kayden had a support system from her friends, parents, and a teacher “who wanted nothing more than to make sure I felt as safe as possible.” But Kayden was by a family member and someone they considered a friend who said they were too female to be non-binary.

“It was at this time in my life that the depression and self-loathing really started to kick in. In that moment, the world shut down,” Kayden, now an 11th grade student, said Saturday at a transgender and non-binary rights rally that drew more than 50 supporters to the clock tower in Capitol Square.

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They made friends like her and started out under the name Kayden. During their second year, they became more comfortable with their gender expression.

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin last week quietly released new proposed guidelines reversing the Virginia Department of Education’s 2021 guidelines protecting transgender students to emphasize parenting rights.

Of the new model guidelines, Kayden said, “I’m silenced.”

“Governor Youngkin says he wants to be supportive and reassuring for all students, including parents, in this discussion of how we should be treated in a school environment. He wants everyone to listen. Instead, I am silenced. Thousands of children across Virginia are being 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 guidelines require students to use school bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth “except to the extent federal law requires otherwise.” The document cites the Grimm v. Gloucester case, in which the US Fourth 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 prohibited him from closing the boys’ school restrooms to use.

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The new guidelines also state that student participation in school sports and activities should be based on “biological sex” and requires parental consent for changes to a student’s name, as well as any nicknames or pronoun changes.

Advocates gathered on the Capitol grounds Saturday morning for a rally hosted by Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. The rally kicked off a month of planned awareness-raising and mobilizing actions against the new guidelines.

Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, opened the rally and called the new guidelines “garbage”.

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

Porter added, “The 2022 model guidelines fulfill the governor’s commitment to uphold the rights of parents and to uphold the dignity and respect of all public school students.”

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Some legal experts question the legality of the new guidelines, saying the General Assembly would need to give authority for new guidelines. Under the then Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, issued the Department of Education the 2021 Model Guidelines under direction of legislation passed by the 2020 General Assembly.

The Youngkin administration’s Model Policy repeatedly affirms the right of parents to make decisions related to the upbringing of their children. They cite US Supreme Court rulings and a Virginia statute that states: “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions about the upbringing, education and care of the parent’s child.”

Youngkin said Friday at the Texas Tribune’s TribFest in Austin that parents should be involved, especially on important issues.

“In schools today, at least in Virginia, parents are required to provide written notice if their child needs aspirin, but the school can participate in a discussion of a child’s most difficult decision,” he said.

“We need to have parents on the front lines – not to the exclusion of a trusted teacher or counselor – but parents need to be the first port of call for these decisions.”

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who co-sponsored the state law that led to the Northam government’s guidelines, said Saturday: “This isn’t about the rights of parents … and we’re not even talking about the children, who do not have the support of their families. We know that’s a fact.”

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In Loudoun County on Tuesday, a reporter asked the governor about transgender students who are concerned their parents are not supporting them.

“I would say trust your parents,” Youngkin said. “The moment there are very difficult problems in families – challenging problems in families – families come together. And that’s why parents actually play a role in their children’s lives.”

Youngkin added, “If there is a safety issue then there is legal protection for this child. Of course, if there are legitimate concerns about the safety of the child, there is a legal way to protect the child.”

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

“If this policy were really about parental rights, I could demand that the school address my child as they are, and not just as male or female,” Berg said. “If this policy was really about parental rights, we wouldn’t have to provide legal documents just for our children to be addressed by their chosen name at school.

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

“Pride began as a protest and will always be a protest,” said Rahaman of Equality Virginia. “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. The protesters chanted “Don’t Tread on Trans Kids” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, this policy has to go.”

On Tuesday, Pride Liberation — a student-led group of queer and allied students in Virginia campaigning for the rights of LGBTQIA+ students — plans statewide strikes by students opposed to the new policies.

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