Virginia is still for lovers: why the marriage equality ban should be repealed

By Narissa Rahaman

This June will mark eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage equality to be the law of the land, but Virginia still has a ban on same-sex marriage in its constitution.

In the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, the court found that the right to marry must be extended to couples of the same sex, and since then, couples across the country – and indeed, across Virginia – have taken advantage of this long-awaited right. This session, pro-equality legislators in the Virginia Senate introduced and passed a bill with bipartisan support that would strip the ban on marriage equality from the Virginia Constitution, but its forward progress in the House has yet to be seen. 

As we look to the end of the legislative session in Richmond and towards statewide elections this fall, it’s important to reflect on Virginia’s reputation as a state with a storied history in supporting love,  from Loving v. Virginia to the iconic “Virginia Is for Lovers” slogan, and how we can move equality forward in the commonwealth while correcting the mistakes of our past.

Virginia, like many other states at the time, passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006 via ballot initiative. Its passage was part of a concentrated campaign by anti-equality forces to drive voters out to the polls by placing this then-controversial political question on the ballot. And, like in many other states, that constitutional ban remains on the books today, despite the Supreme Court ruling in ObergefellThere are multiple reasons this ban should be repealed; namely the pursuit of fairness, to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Virginia and simply because it is the right thing to do. 

First, fairness. This ban does not reflect the attitudes and beliefs of Virginians in 2023. A 2021 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 71% of Virginians support the right of same-sex couples to marry. This percentage has only increased since the question began being asked of voters. In 2006, 53% of voters supported the marriage ban. This huge swing shows the massive shift in public opinion on the issue of marriage, and it is clear evidence that the antiquated ban should no longer be a part of Virginia’s constitution. It’s only fair to revisit a political question that has shown such a vast change since it was first broached.

Second, the rights of LGBTQ+ people. As we’ve seen with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the rights protected by Supreme Court rulings are not set in stone, and they can be threatened and overturned by a simple majority on the court. If a SCOTUS case were to pursue the marriage equality ruling, Virginia’s ban on marriage would become the law of the commonwealth. This is not an alarmist attempt to scare people; this is a chance for Virginians and our leaders to show, clearly, how we support our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors here in the commonwealth. On a personal level, I’m getting married to my partner soon, and it is frightening to think that right could be threatened in the place that we are proud to call home. 

Third, it’s the right thing to do. Virginia has a storied history of supporting “love.” It was our state motto for years: Virginia Is for Lovers. It was a nationally recognized brand, and Virginians were proud of this reputation. We still are. The landmark case Loving v. Virginia also originated in our commonwealth, ultimately extending marriage rights to couples of different races, years before the extension of the right to marry to same-sex couples. We have a history of supporting love, and we owe it to our past and future generations to continue this legacy by living up to our values. 

We have an opportunity to support fairness, protect LGBTQ+ rights and live up to our values. But the House of Delegates, as it stands, has shown that it has no interest in doing any of these things. For that reason, we have to think about the types of lawmakers we want. At Equality Virginia, we are laser-focused on building pro-equality majorities in the General Assembly, and this fall, we will be focusing on flipping the House of Delegates into the pro-equality column, along with preserving our pro-equality gains in the Senate. 

This won’t only help right the wrong of Virginia’s marriage ban; it will also allow us to better protect and advance the rights of LGBTQ+ Virginians, especially trans and nonbinary youth, who were targeted by a harmful athlete ban and forced outing bill this year. Luckily, the Senate has been able to fight against the House’s attempt to pass these bills, but we have to make sure that our lawmakers reflect our values when they reconvene in Richmond next year so that we can push equality forward, not just protect against its backslide.

For years, Virginia has been for lovers. We have to ensure that we really live up to that promise for years to come. 

Narissa Rahaman is the executive director of Equality Virginia and EV Advocates (EVA), the two arms of the commonwealth’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) equality.

Virginia Senate Committee Kills Remaining Anti-Trans Bills; No Anti-Trans Legislation Will Pass in Virginia This Legislative Session

House-passed bills HB 1387 and HB 2432 targeted trans and nonbinary students


February 16, 2023

CONTACT: Nick Morrow | [email protected] |

Virginia Senate Committee Kills Remaining Anti-Trans Bills; No Anti-Trans Legislation Will Pass in Virginia This Legislative Session

House-passed bills HB 1387 and HB 2432 targeted trans and nonbinary students

RICHMOND, VA – Today, Equality Virginia, the Commonwealth’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) equality, praised the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee for killing the two remaining anti-trans bills. With this action, there are no longer any anti-trans bills in the Virginia General Assembly that have a path to passage in the 2023 legislative session. The final two bills killed today were HB 1387 (Greenhalgh), which would prohibit transgender youth in K-12 schools from participating in sports, and impact higher education athletics and club sports, and HB 2432 (LaRock), which would require school staff to “out” transgender and nonbinary students to their parents, regardless of individual consent or consideration of circumstances such as an unsafe home environment.

“As we approach the end of a hard-fought legislative session that saw two anti-trans bills pass the floor of the House of Delegates, all bills targeting trans and nonbinary youth are officially dead for the 2023 legislative session here in Virginia,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “These bills targeted young people– especially trans and nonbinary youth – further stigmatizing them at home, at school and in their communities. But everyday Virginians showed up in fierce opposition to all twelve bills and sent a message that hate is not a Virginia value. Policies attacking trans rights have no place in our commonwealth, and that includes Governor Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education’s anti-trans model guidance, which is still under review. Transgender and nonbinary people deserve a Virginia that celebrates their beauty, and we won’t stop fighting for that reality.”

“Far too often, society’s message to transgender children and youth is that they don’t belong and that they should not be seen for who they are. These bills continue to perpetuate bigotry and discrimination, and the Senate’s Democratic majority has been able to stop their harm,” said Senator Ghazala Hashmi, Chair of the Senate Public Education Subcommittee. “We need to focus on funding our schools, providing mental health services, supporting our teachers and ensuring safe learning environments. It’s time to stop these culture wars that target trans kids.”

“House Republicans should be ashamed that they’re attacking Virginia kids,” said House Democratic Leader Don Scott. “Let’s be clear about what laws like this will do: remove safe spaces to speak to a trusted adult and out students to their parents before they feel safe to do so. I have had enough of the MAGA Caucus using our children as political pawns in their culture wars.”

“’Six years ago, the people of Haymarket, Gainesville, Manassas and Manassas Park made it clear that bills targeting LBGTQ+ youth have no place in our Commonwealth after years of legislative attacks,” said Delegate Danica Roem (D-13). “After heeding that message for the next four years, some legislators decided singling out and stigmatizing their own constituents would be politically salient – and their bills are now dead. Trans kids should know that they can still be themselves in school, they can still go through the Virginia High School League appeals process to play sports, and they still have a voice in their state government. It is vital we elect pro-equality majorities this fall to protect their rights and provide the peace of mind for these kids to be able to just be kids without having to worry about their elected officials. They should be able to be who they are, be that well and thrive because of who they are – not despite it.”

This year, anti-equality legislators have launched an unprecedented legislative assault on LGBTQ+ people in state legislatures across the country– surpassing 2022 as the worst year on record for introducing and enacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Legislators have proposed 320+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the first two months of the year— a new record.  About 200+ of these target trans rights, specifically trans kids – excluding them from sports, prohibiting them from using school bathrooms, preventing them from accessing life-saving medical care.

As many as 86% of trans youth say that they are watching these debates over their identity play out. The direct results of these bills when they pass are to take away things that we know are correlated with increased mental health and decreased suicide risk: sports team participation, seeing yourself represented in a classroom, being accepted by your parents and your healthcare professionals. These are all associated with significantly lower odds of attempting suicide.

This session, Equality Virginia tracked over two dozen anti-LGBTQ+ bills that directly targeted LGBTQ+ people, and in particular, transgender Virginians. Here’s a brief summary of the 12 transgender-related bills that were introduced this year in Virginia, all of which are now dead: 


  • SB791, SB1203, and SB960 (gender-affirming healthcare ban): These bills would prohibit healthcare professionals from providing or referring transgender teenagers for life saving, age-appropriate health care. It also erodes current protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in health insurance and requiring coverage of gender affirming care for adults by making that coverage optional.
  • HB1387, HB1399, SB911, SB962, and SB1186 (trans athlete ban): These bills would ban transgender students from participating in sports teams that match their gender identity and discriminate against them based on harmful myths about trans athletes. 
  • HB1707 (forced outing): HB1707 would require school counselors and all school staff to forcibly “out” trans students to their parents, regardless of the safety of their home. It would lead to further stigmatization and harm of trans youth. 
  • HB2432 (forced outing): In addition to the dangerous forced outing similar to HB1707, HB2432 seeks to narrow the legal definition of “abuse and neglect” when it is applied to trans kids. 
  • HB1434 (forced outing): HB1434 would require a court order to change a student’s name on any school record. Such a requirement is unnecessary and risks creating a hostile learning environment. 
  • HB2170 (forced outing) would require parental consent and notification whenever a student participates in a school club, such as a Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club. In effect, it would deter youth from joining certain school clubs out of fear of being outed. 


EV Advocates (EVA) is a 501(c)(4) organization that works with Equality Virginia (EV) to advance equal rights for LGBTQ Virginians through public policy and advocacy.

Virginia House of Delegates Passes Discriminatory Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

HB 1387 and HB 2432 would disproportionately target trans and nonbinary students

Wednesday, Feb. 8th, 2023
Contact: Narissa Rahaman
e. [email protected]

RICHMOND, VA – Today, Equality Virginia, the Commonwealth’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) equality, condemned the Virginia House of Delegates for passing two anti-LGBTQ+ bills that callously target LGBTQ+ youth and students. The two bills, which now head to the Virginia Senate, are HB 1387 (Greenhalgh), which would prohibit transgender youth in K-12 schools from participating in sports, and impact higher education athletics and club sports, and HB 2432 (LaRock), which would require school staff to “out” transgender and nonbinary students to their parents, regardless of individual consent or consideration of circumstances such as an unsafe home environment.

In stark contrast, last week the Virginia Senate rejected six bills targeting transgender and nonbinary young people in Virginia.

“The leadership in the House of Delegates has shown, very clearly, that they care much more about political posturing and craven primary campaign pandering than they do about the health, safety and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth in Virginia,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “The contrast between the two chambers is stark this year, with the pro-equality Senate dismissing the baseless and unnecessary attempts to restrict LGBTQ+ Virginians’ rights while the House is focusing on bad faith arguments to jump-start their anti-equality re-election campaigns. LGBTQ+ Virginians are real people, and it’s disturbing to see our community continuously used as political pawns – especially when the targets are youth. As Virginians head to the polls this fall, rest assured: we won’t forget who stood with us and who threw us under the bus.”

Executive Director of State LGBTQ+ Group Attends the Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act

Contact: Narissa Rahaman
e. [email protected]

Executive Director of State LGBTQ+ Group Attends the Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Calls on Congress to Take Further Action to Protect Our Communities

Equality Virginia celebrates momentum for LGBTQ+ equality in the nation, recognizes the lengths required to fully protect queer people in Virginia.

WASHINGTON D.C.– Today, Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia attended the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA). Championed by openly-LGBTQ+ U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the RMA passed out of Congress with bipartisan support on December 8th, 2022. The RMA will maintain the status quo and protect families by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ensuring that all federal benefits are available to married couples no matter where they live, and ensuring that states give full faith and credit to all validly celebrated marriages. Effectively, the Respect for Marriage act will protect the rights of same-sex and interracial couples.

“Today we celebrate,” said Narissa Rahaman on the White House South Lawn at the signing. “But this initial step towards lived and legal equality is just that, a step. Our community is under attack. In the wake of a mass shooting in LGBTQ+ spaces, inflammatory anti-trans legislation being introduced in state legislatures, increase of violence against transgender women of color, and attacks on our bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom-we are calling for further action. LGBTQ+ people in Virginia deserve more than the status quo. We deserve the safety to thrive no matter what corner of the Commonwealth we call home.”

The RMA does not guarantee the right to marry. It makes it so that other states have to recognize same-sex marriages across state lines and that same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal benefits of any other married couple. Though the bill attempts to buttress key Supreme Court decisions, the RMA does not prevent same-sex marriages from being outlawed in states that currently have bans on same-sex marriage should the Supreme Court decide to overturn Obergefell v Hodges. Virginia’s constitution contains a ban on same-sex marriage despite widespread support of same-sex marriage across the country and state.

The Marshall-Newman Amendment, also referred to as the Virginia Marriage Amendment, is an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman and bans recognition of any legal status “approximat[ing] the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage”. The amendment was ratified by 57% of the voters on November 7, 2006. Although the amendment is unconstitutional and unenforceable since 2014, it remains part of the Virginia Constitution. But the Marshall-Newman Amendment would be enforceable if Obergefell v Hodges is overturned.

“We must send a clear message that Virginia can be a leader for LGBTQ+ equality,” said Rahaman, “In the 2023 General Assembly session we must defeat all anti-LGBTQ+ bills, remove the stain from our constitution, and protect trans youth. We can be a Commonwealth that supports LGBTQ+ people of all walks of life whether you’re a student or a senior. We can celebrate today’s step forward, but we are far from the finish line.”


Founded in 1989 as Virginians for Justice, Equality Virginia (EV) is the leading advocacy organization in Virginia seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Connect with us today on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email us at [email protected]


EV’s Public Comment Opposing 2022 VDOE Proposed Model Policy

October 26, 2022
Contact: Narissa Rahaman
e. [email protected]
p.   407-492-5086

Link to PDF version

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    

Virginia Department of Education
Superintendent Jillian Balow
James Monroe Bldg., 25th Floor
101 N. 14th St.Richmond, VA 23219

Re: Equality Virginia’s Comment Opposing the Proposed 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students in Virginia’s Public Schools

Dear Superintendent Balow,

I am writing on behalf of Equality Virginia (EV), the leading advocacy organization in Virginia seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ+). EV strongly opposes the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) proposed 2022 model policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students in Virginia’s Public Schools (Model Policies), and urges you to rescind them immediately. 

EV believes schools should be places of liberation where every student can thrive and reach their full potential. LGBTQ+ students disproportionately experience school climates that are hostile to their overall well-being and educational attainment. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ students who are Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), transgender, non-binary, and students with disabilities. A hostile school climate, much like the one the proposed model policies would create, will affect transgender and non-binary students’ academic success and mental health.

All students in Virginia deserve a K-12 education system that allows them to learn and grow free from harm and transgender and non-binary students must be afforded the equal opportunity to learn in a safe and affirming school environment. The model polices do not provide transgender and non-binary students this opportunity and would instead create learning environments that are unsafe, hostile and dangerous.

The mere proposal of anti-transgender policies, like the model policies, has devastating effects on the mental health and well-being of transgender and non-binary youth with 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health.

The model policies would create a hostile school climate for transgender and non-binary students

The model policies will put transgender and non-binary students at risk for harm and discrimination, both at home and in school, by restricting restroom access for transgender and nonbinary students, requiring students to jump through legal hoops just to be referred to by their affirming pronouns, and require faculty and staff to “out” trans and non-binary students to their parents. A 2021 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project and published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, found that greater experiences of minority stress experiences are associated with increased odds of attempting suicide. LGBTQ+ youth who reported experiencing four types of minority stress — LGBTQ+-based physical harm, discrimination, housing instability, and change attempts by parents — were 12 times at greater odds of attempting suicide compared to youth who experienced none.1

The model policies would only serve to exacerbate these stressors. It is imperative that the VDOE develop policies that reduce stressors for all students but especially transgender and non-binary students. 

Rejection and a Lack of Social Support & Affirming Spaces

The model policies would require faculty and staff to forcibly “out” trans and non-binary students to their parents. According to the model policies, “schools may not encourage or instruct teachers to conceal information about a student from their parents.” This policy would force teachers into the impossible position of risking their job or the safety and well-being of their students. Moreover, forcibly outing students without their knowledge or consent in any circumstance will only result in eroding trust between student and teachers – trust that has proven to foster a supportive educational environment for all students, including transgender and non-binary students.  For example, LGBTQ+ youth who report the presence of trusted adults, like teachers, in their school have higher levels of self-esteem and access to supportive peers is protective against anxiety and depression, including among those who lack support from their family.2

Transgender and non-binary youth deserve to have families that love and support them, but  unfortunately that is not always the case. Some transgender and non-binary youth will face rejection, abuse or worse if they are forcibly outed, like the 2022 proposed model policy aims to do, to unsupportive families. Research suggests that among LGBTQ+ youth, only one-third experience parental acceptance, with an additional one-third experiencing parental rejection, and the final one-third not disclosing their LGBTQ identity until they are adults.3 Fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming and a little more than half (51%) found their school to be affirming. 

We know that transgender and non-binary youth deserve to be accepted with open arms, care, and love. They also deserve the space and time to come out to trusted adults at a pace that makes sense to them. Coming out is an incredibly personal decision and should be completely up to a student and their relationship with who they might share it with. Forcible outing could place students in situations where they feel unsafe and force them to make alternative plans for housing, food, financial support, and/or transportation. The safety and well-being of transgender and non-binary students should be VDOE’s utmost priority. 

Prohibits Supporting Transgender & Non-Binary Youth

The model policies would require transgender and non-binary students utilize an unnecessary process to be referred to by their affirming name and pronouns. Even if students follow the proposed process, the model policies still allow teachers to misgender and deadname these students.

According to the proposed policy, “school personnel shall refer to each student using only the name in the official record or a related common nickname”, “school personnel shall refer to each student using only the pronouns indicated by the student’s sex in the official record”, with the exception that “school personnel shall use a name or pronouns that differ from those in the official record only if a parent or emancipated minor instructs the school in writing that another name or pronouns be used because of the student’s persistent and sincere belief that their gender differs from their sex.” This exception would require parents of transgender or non-binary students to document in writing that their child’s gender differs from their sex assigned at birth, a requirement that threatens the health and safety of some students and can create harmful circumstances for transgender and non-binary students whose parents are not supportive.

In a poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, when asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 45% of LGBTQ youth said it made them feel angry, 34% felt nervous, and nearly 1 in 3 felt stressed.

Affirming transgender and nonbinary youth by respecting their pronouns and allowing them to change legal documents is associated with lower rates of attempting suicide. Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived.

Misgendering and deadnaming in school is a major fear and concern for transgender and nonbinary students. All students have the right to be addressed by a name, pronouns, and other terms that correspond to their gender identity. This foundational respect should not rely on whether a student has access to a legal name change or gender marker change on official documents. Educators, staff, and peers, should always use the pronoun and name with which a student identifies or requests.

Negative Impact on School Climate

Per GLSEN’s 2021 National School Climate Survey, a staggering 74.2% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school based on their gender (additionally 64% of trans youth felt unsafe based on their gender expression, and 49% felt unsafe based on their sexual orientation), 72.9% of transgender students avoided bathrooms at school, 58.6% avoided locker rooms, and 51.2% avoided gym/PE class, 38.3% missed school for safety reasons (relatedly 19.7% changed schools for safety reasons), 53.4% of transgender youth reported being prevented from using their chosen name and pronouns. 

Transgender students who face these sorts of victimization are then three times more likely to have missed school in the past month than their peers. Of the LGBTQ+ students who indicated that they were considering dropping out of school, half (51.5%) indicated that they were doing so because of a hostile school climate, including issues with harassment, unsupportive peers or educators, and gendered school policies/practices. 

The academic achievement of transgender and nonbinary youth quite literally depends on access to affirming spaces. Since most youth under age 18 spend the majority of their time in school, it is imperative that these environments are supportive of their identities and responsive to their needs. Access to a quality education is impossible if we do not first ensure that the safety and humanity of all students is valued and preserved. As long as students are unsafe, fearful, and uncomfortable in their school environment, they cannot focus on learning or sometimes even be physically present. This demonstrates the immediate harm the model policies will inflict on transgender and non-binary students, and the urgent need to rescind them.

The model policies violate Virginia Code § 22.1-23.3

The intent of the law and the Virginia Code requires and authorizes VDOE to develop model policies for elementary and secondary schools on how to address common issues involving transgender and nonbinary students, using evidence-based information and best practices.4 Delegate Marcus Simon, one of the law’s sponsors, stated that the purpose of the legislation is to “ensure the safety and dignity of all students in Virginia, regardless of how they identify or where they live.”5 Instead, the VDOE has proposed model policies that directly conflict with the intent and purpose of the law, are not evidence-based, are not informed by or involved transgender and non-binary students, and promote unfair and dangerous treatment of transgender and non-binary students. EV has serious concerns with the legality of such conflict and inconsistencies with what the law requires as well as the administration seeking to legislate policy through an executive agency. 

The 2022 Model Policies will not create a learning environment that is safe for all students. Instead, they will result in school policies that strip transgender students of the same opportunities afforded to their cisgender peers.

The model policies ignore or violate existing state and federal law.

EV echoes, supports and endorses public comment submitted by other organizations challenging the legal standing of the 2022 proposed model policy:6


On this basis, EV vehemently opposes the proposed 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students in Virginia’s Public Schools. We urge the VDOE to rescind them.  

We will continue to work with community members, local and state organizations to create a Virginia that welcomes, includes and provides safety for transgender and non-binary students. 

Please reach out to Narissa Rahaman (she/her), Executive Director, at nr[email protected] to discuss our public comment. 


Narissa Rahaman (she/her)
Executive Director
Equality Virginia

1 Green, A. E., Price, M. N., & Dorison, S. H. (2021). Cumulative minority stress and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1–12.
2 Dessel, A. B., Kulick, A., Wernick, L. J., & Sullivan, D. (2017). The importance of teacher support: Differential impacts by gender and sexuality. Journal of Adolescence, 56, 136-144. Parra, L. A., Bell, T. S., Benibgui, M., Helm, J. L., & Hastings, P. D. (2018). The buffering effect of peer support on the links between family rejection and psychosocial adjustment in LGB emerging adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(6), 854-871.
Katz-Wise, S. L., Rosario, M., & Tsappis, M. (2016). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and family acceptance. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 63(6), 1011-1025.
4  Va. Code § 22.1-23.3.
5 Press Release, Office of The Governor, Governor Northam Signs 49 Bills into Law (Mar. 5, 2020),
6 Pursuant to Virginia Code § 2.2-4002.1(C): “[i]f a written comment is received during a public comment period asserting that the guidance document is contrary to state law or regulation, … the effective date of the guidance document by the agency shall be delayed for an additional 30-day period.”


How To Protect Trans Kids and Oppose Youngkin’s 2022 Anti-Transgender Student Policy

What’s at stake for Virginia K-12 students?

On September 16th, Governor Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education released a draft model policy that would remove and replace 2021’s model policies on the treatment of transgender (trans) and non-binary youth in schools. The 2021 guidance assists Virginia’s local education agencies in adopting a comprehensive set of policies that will protect transgender and nonbinary students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools and create inclusive and affirming learning environments. Equality Virginia OPPOSES the 2022 proposed model policy.

Governor Youngkin’s draft model policy:

  • Is rooted in transphobia and seeks to further harm trans and nonbinary kids.
  • Seeks to erase trans and nonbinary youth from the classroom. They create a hostile & potentially dangerous school environment.
  • Requires teachers and school staff to forcibly “out” students to their parents against their will in some circumstances, such as where a student seeks counseling.
  • Prohibits teachers and school staff from supporting trans & nonbinary students, such as using a student’s affirming name & pronouns.
  • Creates bathroom and sports policies that prohibit access and/or participation in activities consistent with their gender identity.

Public Comment Guide

A public comment period for the proposed model policy opened Monday September 26th and will close Wednesday October 26th at 11:59 pm. We encourage you to submit a comment in opposition to the policy. Below are tips. Navigate to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall Page and click “Enter Comment” to begin.


If you feel overwhelmed or too busy to write something personal, you can simply say  “I OPPOSE the guidance.” Even that helps to show the VDOE the number of people who oppose the guidance.

Identify your relationship to the trans and nonbinary community. Are you transgender? A family member or friend of a transgender person? An educator? A concerned community member?

Tell a little about yourself.

Share why trans affirming school policy matters to you.

If you’re trans and have faced anti-trans discrimination while at school, share your story. Be specific as much as you are comfortable with on who or what caused the harm (i.e. student, classmate, teacher, etc).

Please mention how your experience overlaps with multiple marginalized identities.

If you’re trans and have had a good school experience that affirmed your gender identity, share your story. Please be specific as well.

Be clear that you OPPOSE the draft policy and want the VDOE to reject them.

If you prefer to submit a public comment anonymously for the safety of you and your loved ones, Equality Virginia has a collection form that will be collecting anonymous comments.

What happens once the VDOE model policies are finalized after the public comment period?
Once the VDOE releases the final draft of the model policies on October 27, 2022 school boards in Virginia will have to consider and vote to adopt or reject the 2022 VDOE model policies. Several school districts have said they will not

Additional Information


The most powerful form of public comment is personal testimony, which can be just a few sentences! We know it can be difficult to know what to say so we have provided some prompting questions for anyone who wants to support trans and non-binary youth:

Parents, caregivers, and adult family members:

  • What has been your child’s experience at their school around being LGBTQ+ or their friends who might be LGBTQ+? 
  • What would it mean to your family if schools removed protections and guidelines that help create safe and inclusive environments for all youth? 
  • How would it impact your young person or their friends at school and in their daily life?

LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ adults, allied youth and siblings:

  • What has been your experience at school around being LGBTQ+ or having LGBTQ+ peers?
  • What would it mean to you if Virginia schools didn’t have safe and inclusive environments for all youth?
  • How would it impact you or your peers at school and in their daily life?

Educators, Administrators, and School Personnel:

  • In what ways would you and your coworkers feel more prepared by having guidance on how to better serve all youth, particularly transgender and non-binary youth? 
  • Why is this personally impactful to you and your coworkers? 
  • How would the guidance set students up for success?

Adult allies:

  • What would it mean to you and your city/county if Virginia schools did not have safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ youth? 
  • How might it impact your friends, loved ones, and other community members? 
  • Why is this important to you as an ally?


  • Polling shows that 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth, and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth, say that recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half (53%) of transgender and nonbinary youth. Nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide. However, LGBTQ youth who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming school reported lower rates of attempting suicide than those who did not. Additionally, learning about LGBTQ people or issues was associated with significantly lower odds (23%) of a past-year suicide attempt in LGBTQ students. 
  • According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 45% of LGBTQ youth said it made them feel angry, 34% felt nervous, and nearly 1 in 3 felt stressed.
  • Having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent.
  • A 2021 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project’s researchers found that transgender and nonbinary youth who reported gender identity acceptance from teachers and peers had significantly lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year.
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project’s researchers, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that transgender and nonbinary youth who experienced bathroom discrimination had more than 1.5 times the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience bathroom discrimination. 
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.

2021 Model Policy (Trans Affirming)

What current protections do transgender and non-binary youth have in schools (under the 2021 VDOE policy)?

School districts’ model policies must cover the following areas that schools will address:

  • Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws;
  • Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students;
  • Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment;
  • Maintenance of student records;
  • Identification of students;
  • Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information;
  • Enforcement of sex-based dress codes; and
  • Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. Activities and events do not include athletics.

In addition, the Virginia Values Act bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in places of public accommodation, which includes educational institutions like public schools. This means that schools must offer a safe and equal learning environment to all students, teachers, and staff, including those who are LGBTQ.

The 2021 policies allow trans and non-binary youth to be safer from bulllying, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of their peers, teachers, and school staff and administrators. It also guarantees that supports are in place to allow all youth, including trans and non-binary youth, to have access to an equal educational experience.

The 2021 legislation does not cover transgender and non-binary students’ participation in athletics. Instead, this is governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL), which allows transgender youth to play on teams consistent with their gender identity through a waiver process requiring certain documentation and hearings. Many middle schools follow VHSL guidelines. 

Equality Virginia and Partners File Amicus Brief in Support of Transgender and Non-Binary Students in Virginia Schools

July 28, 2022
Contact: Narissa Rahaman, [email protected]

RICHMOND, VA – Last evening, Equality Virginia, the Commonwealth’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) equality, along with 35 partners and school board leaders across the Commonwealth, filed an amicus brief in support of transgender students in Virginia schools.

The brief asks the Supreme Court of Virginia to uphold the Circuit Court for the County of King William’s dismissal of Peter Vlaming’s lawsuit against the West Point School Board, which rejected Mr. Vlaming’s claims that his firing for violation of the West Point School Board’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies violated his rights under Virginia law. 

The West Point School Board has a compelling interest in protecting its transgender students from the harms associated with discriminatory treatment. It must also comply with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination against transgender children on the basis of their gender identities, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. To serve these interests and comply with the law, the West Point School Board must treat its transgender students equally—including by ensuring that its staff addresses transgender students, like their cisgender peers, with the names and pronouns that reflect their gender identity. The illusory burden asserted by Mr. Vlaming cannot stand against this compelling interest. 

An amicus curiae brief, or “friend of the court” brief, is filed by organizations or persons not directly involved in a case to provide information related to issues to help courts reach decisions.

The groups point to the negative and harmful experiences of transgender and non-binary students and their families in Virginia schools as reasons why anti-discrimination policies and practices, such as using a student’s correct pronouns, can mitigate these harms.

“Transgender and non-binary students, when compared to their cisgender peers, face physical abuse, bullying, and extreme emotional harm at higher rates, which impact their well-being and education,” said Narissa S. Rahaman, Executive Director at Equality Virginia. “The West Point School Board’s antidiscrimination and anti-harassment policies aim to counteract and prevent those harms. We know that transgender students thrive when they are supported by an inclusive school environment, which includes using their correct pronouns.”

“The harm of differentiating transgender students from their peers and failing to affirm their identities is well-established in the courts,” said S. Douglas Bunch, Partner at civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “Sadly, this effect is magnified when the hostile actor is a teacher. School policies, such as one of using pronouns that reflect a transgender student’s identity, are there to mitigate these harms and allow all students to thrive in school.”

According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, Virginia schools were not safe for most LGBTQ+ secondary school students. In addition, many LGBTQ+ students in Virginia did not have access to important school resources, such as an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, and were not protected by supportive and inclusive school policies. 

School-based supports such as supportive and inclusive school policies, school personnel who are supportive of LGBTQ+ students, GSAs, and LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum resources can positively affect school climate for LGBTQ+ students. Findings from GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey demonstrate that students attending schools with these resources and supports report more positive school experiences, including lower victimization and absenteeism and higher academic achievement.

This is the second amicus brief of its kind that Equality Virginia and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll have filed on behalf of the welfare of transgender and non-binary students in Virginia. On July 9, 2021 Equality Virginia and over 50 partners and school board leaders across the Commonwealth filed a brief in support of Virginia’s model policies to make schools safer and inclusive for transgender students.

Groups signing on to the amicus brief include:

Diversity Richmond 

Equality Loudoun

Farmville Pride

FCPS Pride 



GLSEN Southwest Virginia

Hampton Roads Pride

He She Ze and We

Health Brigade

Hill City Pride

PFLAG Blue Ridge

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia

Pride Liberation Project

Rappahannock Region Transgender Support (RRTS)

Restoration Fellowship RVA

Richmond Triangle Players

Rockbridge LGBTQIA+ Alliance

Side by Side VA, Inc.

Southeastern Transgender Resource Center 

Stonewall Sports Richmond 

Transgender Assistance Program Virginia

UGRC/Black Pride RVA

Virginia Anti-Violence Project 

Virginia Council on LGBTQ+

Virginia Pride 

Honorable Barbara J. Kanninen (Arlington County)

Honorable David Priddy (Arlington County)

Honorable Lisa Larson-Torres (Chair, Charlottesville City)

Honorable Karl V. Frisch (Fairfax County)

Honorable Laura Downs (Chair, Falls Church City)

Honorable David Ortiz (Falls Church City)

Honorable Lori Silverman (Falls Church City)

Honorable Elizabeth Warner (Stafford County)

Mr. Jason Kamras (Richmond City) 

Equality Virginia is a 501(c)(3) organization working to build a fully inclusive Commonwealth by educating, empowering, and mobilizing Virginians to ensure all LGBTQ+ people are free to live, love, learn, and work.


Virginia LGBTQ+ Organizations Call Out Governor Youngkin’s Hypocrisy in Hosting a Pride Event

Gov. Youngkin’s performative event does not diminish the months he spent attacking the LGBTQ+ community on the campaign trail and subsequent anti-LGBTQ+ appointments after taking office

RICHMOND – Today, the Commonwealth’s leading advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality, responded to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s announcement about hosting a Pride event after nearly a year of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and administration appointments. 

“Equality Virginia is disappointed in Governor Youngkin’s performative attempt to celebrate Virginia’s diverse LGBTQ+ community by hosting a Pride event. His cherry-picking of invitees sends a message that he is unwilling to listen to the LGBTQ+ organizations and community members who have worked tirelessly for decades to make our Commonwealth inclusive and welcoming for all,” said Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia Advocates. “The Governor spent months campaigning on a platform of homophobia and transphobia, attacking some of the most marginalized members of our community– transgender and non-binary youth. His Pride event does not erase his words and only gaslights our community. We encourage the Governor to meet with us, hear our stories, learn about our lives, and make a commitment to fight for our lived equality.”

Gov. Youngkin’s opposition to LGBTQ+ equality during his gubernatorial campaign was constant and intentional. He declined to support same-sex marriage, despite support of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize it nationally. He expressed support for “license to discriminate” laws. He does not support transgender kids competing in school sports on the teams consistent with their gender identity saying, “It’s just not fair.” On the first day of Pride month in 2021, Youngkin supported a teacher who was suspended for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of his student saying he was standing up for the “best interest” of students in his district.

Gov. Youngkin’s hostility continued after the election when he appointed individuals with a history of engaging in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Before taking office, Youngkin named Kay Coles James, former president of the far-right Heritage Foundation, as the Secretary of the Commonwealth. While at Heritage, James opposed the Equality Act, federal legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. James tweeted the Equality Act is “anything but equality,” saying it would shut down businesses and “open every female bathroom and sports team to biological males.” Former Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz, known for her tirade against protections for transgender students, was appointed as Virginia’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“I appreciate the Governor’s invitation, but I think it is premature for this administration to celebrate LGBTQ+ equality when it has yet to take any meaningful steps to advance it,” said James Millner, Director of Virginia Pride. “I have serious concerns about the Governor’s on-the-record positions on issues like same-sex marriage and rights and protections for the transgender community, especially transgender youth.  If the Governor can demonstrate that he and his administration are true allies to our community by working with us to protect and advance our hard-won progress, I would happily attend a celebration with him next year.”

“LGBTQ+ Pride month is not a celebration, it’s an action. In this moment, LGBTQ+ communities don’t want to merely attend events, they want to be heard. Members of the current administration have demonstrated in their words and in their actions that they do not support the rights and dignity of the queer community,” said Lindsay Church, Executive Director of Minority Veterans of America. “Instead of hosting events and public professions of support for our communities, this administration must meet with LGBTQ+ leaders and advisory boards to hear our concerns and take clear and substantive actions to address them. Until this happens, these events will be mere tokenization of members of our community in the name of political cover.”

He She Ze and We supports families with transgender and nonbinary youth of all ages. Before accepting an invitation to a Pride Celebration, we ask for an opportunity to meet with the Governor and his staff to discuss the urgent needs of our community,” said Shannon McKay, Executive Director of He She Ze and We. “Perhaps after meeting with some of our families and school-age children, they would understand why it is essential to protect them with inclusive policies, and why we celebrate their courage to be themselves every single day!”

Instances of Governor Youngkin’s Hostility Towards the LGBTQ+ Community

On First Day Of Pride Month in 2021, Youngkin Supported A Teacher Who Was Suspended For Refusing To Use The Preferred Pronouns Of His Student. [American Independent, 6/1/21]

Youngkin Supported Judge’s Decision To Reinstate Teacher Who Was Suspended For Refusing To Use Student’s Preferred Pronouns. [@GlennYoungkin, 6/8/21]

Youngkin Declined To Support Marriage Equality. [Associated Press, 10/22/22]

Youngkin Expressed Support For “License To Discriminate” Laws. [@GlennYoungkin Twitter, 04/26/21]

Youngkin Opposed Transgender-Inclusive Sports Competitions. [Washington Examiner, 3/26/21; Washington Blade, 5/26/21]

EV Advocates (EVA) is a 501(c)(4) organization that works with Equality Virginia (EV) to advance equal rights for LGBTQ Virginians through public policy and advocacy.

Minority Veterans of America (MVA) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization designed to create belonging and advance equity for underrepresented veterans.

He She Ze and We is a 501(c)3 non-profit that empowers families on the journey of gender identity through support, education, advocacy.

Virginia Pride seeks to unite the segmented LGBT communities throughout the Commonwealth.  We strive to be a representative body of the LGBT Community in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  We also seek to standardize Pride for the Commonwealth of Virginia by holding a state-wide Annual PrideFest Celebration.


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Letter to the Editor, March 30, 2021: HIV penalty clause hurts bill’s effectiveness

The Virginia state legislature has passed Senate Bill 1138, a bill that modernizes Virginia’s current HIV law and it’s now awaiting Governor Northam’s signature. However, unless he amends the bill by March 31 to reduce the felony penalty to a misdemeanor, the effectiveness of the bill will suffer. Under the current version, Virginians living with HIV – including LGBTQ Virginians – could still be penalized for up to five years in prison simply because of their HIV diagnosis. This goes against public health recommendations and will deter people from accessing healthcare and prevention services.

While there are incredible provisions in the bill that bring Virginia up to date with modern science, our work to lower the felony continues as the bill sits on the Governor’s desk.

Click here to read the article about the need to remove the felony statute before the bill gets signed into law.

Biden Repeals Trump-era ban on Transgender Troops

As we actively advocate for pro-equality bills at our state legislature, it is a relief to see pro-equality steps being taken at the federal level with the repeal of the ban on transgender troops.

According to Sparta – A Transgender Military Advocacy Organization, about 15,000 transgender service members will be impacted by the repeal. This executive order reinforces the simple fact that LGBTQ people should be not be discriminated against simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

To all of the transgender service members in Virginia – we see you, we thank you, and we salute you. Click to read the article about this historic change.