Commentary

Students, stand up for your rights

December 28, 2022 12:07 am

High school students across Virginia including those at McLean High School walked out in protest of the governor’s revised transgender student policies on Sept. 27, 2022. Pictured is a student holding a rainbow flag. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

By Patrick Brady

After the Virginia Department of Education spent over two years dancing around implementing model policies to improve accessibility for transgender youth in Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin reversed the increasing flow of LGBTQ+ freedoms by introducing stricter laws concerning transgender youth in public schools. Many Americans think the fight for queer rights finished years ago, but politicians like Youngkin demonstrate the continuous threat LGBTQ+ adults and youth face even in a more progressive country. Some Virginia school districts swept transgender issues under the rug, and thier negligence allowed for anti-trans policies to surface. Consequently, students across the state have a steep hill to climb in order to protect their rights. With many students below voting age, they only have their voices to defend themselves against assaults to queer rights. 

The Virginia School Boards Association’s stated goals include an aim “to advocate effectively for Virginia’s public schools and children before all levels of government and the public.” Many school boards don’t uphold their word, though. The Washington Post’s Hannah Natanson reports how Anthony Belotti, a queer, nonbinary, trans masculine college student, “was barred from using the men’s restroom in high school” and this “caused him to contract chronic urinary tract and kidney infections.” Today, these issues persist amongst queer students in Virginia and have for years. Even after the Virginia Department of Education recommended policies in 2020 advocating for transgender accessibility, many school boards ignored it, dismissing the safety and privacy of their students. Now, Governor Youngkin proposes anti-transgender policies where “teachers cannot be compelled to refer to transgender students by their name and gender.” This policy actively targets the privacy of transgender students in an effort to suppress their rights. Students can no longer trust their school boards to advocate for them, and something has to be done about it.

In the past decade, Americans have seen a strong movement towards diversifying different areas of our society and incorporating representation into all work fields. However, when we bring minors into the equation, it’s difficult to offer them that agency to decide important issues, even if the issues involve or impact their lives. Although minors don’t have a vote, they have a voice, and their voice plays an important role in advocating for their rights. Following the announcement of Governor Youngkin’s anti-transgender policies, high school students in almost 100 schools walked out of class, protesting the unfair proposal. Walkouts allow students to show adults that they take their education seriously. After realizing their school boards weren’t going to protect them, students acted fast to illustrate how seriously they take their rights. By participating in peaceful protest, students set a valuable example for future generations to follow. 

But how can students organize meaningful protests? Last year, three Texas teens – Erika Alvarez, Jeffrey Jin and Foye Dosunmu – through strenuous effort organized a protest including 1,300 young people. They recognize that every student doesn’t need to put in an enormous amount of  work for demonstrations to be successful. The three offer tips for planning, figuring out the logistics, getting endorsements, and involving the community. Their perspective is invaluable for Virginia teens who share a similar aspiration for change but struggle with making their voices heard. With Youngkin in office for the next few years, students need to stand up for themselves now before his anti-trans ideas become reality.

In the height of an increasingly radicalized political war, some lawmakers continue to ignore the rights of adolescents and cater to adults only, threatening students’ right to privacy and respect. Gov. Glenn Youngkin emulates this scenario perfectly, pushing his political agenda forward without consideration of its devastating effects. Virginia students, however, persist through this adversity, demonstrating a growing community of intelligent young people demanding to be heard. The solution does not stop after one wave of protests, though. The battle for transgender freedoms in Virginia is one step in a long line of issues surrounding the privacy and rights of students. To be successful, it will require many more voices across the state and the country to speak out against social injustice. Walkouts are an efficient and effective start, but students must persevere and stay hopeful in these trying times.

Patrick Brady is a freshman at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.

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