What We Do

Advance LGBTQ Protections

Advocate for Inclusive Schools

Equality Virginia believes that all students and school employees have the right to feel safe in their educational environment or workplace, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Where We’ve Been

Equality Virginia has been working closely alongside LGBTQ students and their families as well as local community organizations to cultivate inclusive schools for all LGBTQ youth. 

In the absence of statewide legal protections before 2020, EV and local partners advocated school district-by-school district to build support for policies that protect LGBTQ students, teachers, and staff from discrimination in the locality’s public schools. 

EV has consulted with local community organizations, school districts, and the Virginia Department of Education to share resources and provide trainings on creating inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ students, particularly for transgender and non-binary youth whose needs have been consistently unmet due to a lack of knowledge and familiarity by peers and school officials. 

Victories

After years of advocacy by EV as well as local, state, and national partners, the General Assembly passed legislation (House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161) to protect transgender and non-binary students’ access to an equal education. This legislation requires the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to create model policies on creating an inclusive school environment for transgender and non-binary students. Then, the law requires school boards across the Commonwealth to adopt policies consistent with or more comprehensive than those crafted by the DOE by the start of the 2021-2022 school year

In addition, 2020 also saw the passage of the Virginia Values Act, a historic piece of civil rights legislations that protects LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces – including schools and educational institutions. This means that schools cannot discriminate against LGBTQ students, teachers, or staff and must provide an equal learning environment regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Thank you to the many organizations, advocates, youth, family members, and community leaders who made these historic wins for equality possible. These two pieces of legislation will ensure that schools can offer all students, including LGBTQ students, the ability to thrive and learn.

Preparation

In anticipation of the work ahead, Equality Virginia, Side by Side, and many partner organizations collaborated on crafting a ‘platinum standard’ policy recommendations guide to inform the work of the VDOE and local school boards. GLSEN and the National Center for Transgender Equality have also published an updated model local policy on transgender and non-binary students that can help inform local policies.

EV worked with Side by Side to host a series of Town Hall events in Fall 2020 to educate Virginians about the new protections for trans and non-binary students, and how everyone can get involved to make these policies a reality in every school district in the Commonwealth. EV and our partner organizations will continue to share resources and information on these policies and how to advocate for them.

The work that lies ahead

The Virginia Department of Education released proposed model policies that will be available for public comments from January 4, 2021 through February 3, 2021. You can click here to read the proposed guidance, which Equality Virginia and our partner organizations support. You can navigate here for our comprehensive Trans Student Policy Public Comment Guide for more information about the public comment process, sample comments, and much more.

Leave a comment online following these steps:

  • Click here to navigate to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall Page
  • Click the “Enter a comment” bullet point 
  • Type your first and last name, and the name of an organization you work with (if applicable)
  • Indicate the state where you currently live
  • Provide a current email address
  • In the “Comment subject/title” section please write: Support
  • Write your comment. Remember: all information that you submit through the comment forum will be public.  
  • Don’t forget to hit submit on the bottom left corner once you have written your message. 

If you prefer to submit a public comment anonymously for the safety of you and your loved ones, our sibling organization, Side by Side, has a form that will be collecting anonymous comments.

If you feel overwhelmed or too busy to write something personal, you can simply say  “I support the guidance.” Even that helps to show the VDOE the number of people who support the guidance. The most powerful form of public comment is personal testimony, which can be just a few sentences!

You can also check out GLSEN’s public comment guide to support trans student policies.

Sample public comments:

 

From a family member: 

My son has several gay friends and a classmate who is a transgender girl. We’re Christians and taught him to love everyone so he fully supports them. Sadly, he has seen the struggles they go through with name-calling and even blatant disrespect from a school administrator. I know that if my son were struggling with these issues, I would do everything I could to make sure he has the same safe education as everyone else. I support this guidance because I want my son and all of his friends to be in a school environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone. 

From a youth:

I am a student in Albemarle County Public Schools and a member of my school’s GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance). I have been bullied since I came out as non-binary in middle school, but luckily most of my teachers support me and I often eat lunch with them to avoid confrontations with other students in the cafeteria. I support this guidance because I would feel so much safer knowing my school is supporting me so I don’t have to hide or live in fear. I want to get through the day just focusing on classes and graduation!

From an educator:

I’ve been a teacher for 14 years, and I’m proud to support this guidance. My high school is in a progressive area, but most of my colleagues haven’t dealt with a transgender student until this past year when two students came out as transgender boys. We wanted to do everything right for them, but it was a learning process while we reached out for information on how to support them. I know it was tough for the two students to have their role models at school not knowing how to treat them with the full respect they deserve. This guidance would allow all schools to be equipped with the policies and procedures they need to confidently provide a safe and inclusive educational experience for all students, especially our LGBT youth.

From a person of faith:

As a Christian and an uncle, I’m honored to support this guidance. My nieces have friends who are transgender, and they’re always welcome at my house! I’ve heard about some of the difficulties they face with unsupportive parents at home and bullying at school. If it weren’t were for their friends, I’m not sure where they’d be. We can’t change their home life, but we can make sure they are safe and welcomed at their school. I want every child made in God’s image to have the same chance at a happy and successful life, and that starts with their education!

After the public comment period ends, the VDOE will review the feedback and then release the final draft of the model policies by Spring 2021. From there, all 133 school boards in Virginia will have to consider and vote to adopt policies consistent with, if not more comprehensive than, the VDOE model policies before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. 

Once it’s time for the school boards to consider the policies they will adopt, all of us will have to work together to make sure each school district is standing up for trans and non-binary youth by passing the best policies that will cultivate a safe and inclusive learning environment.

Read our FAQ sheet to find out how to get involved in advocating for transgender and non-binary students with the public comment period and local school boards. 

Advocating for Trans Students FAQ

Resources

  • Schools in Transition, A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools. Expansive, detailed guide on how to help schools become more inclusive for gender diversity in ways that benefit all students.
  • Transgender Students and Bathrooms, Gender Spectrum. Being able to feel safe in everyday spaces in incredibly important for trans youth. Check out this guide for understanding how to make bathrooms accessible for trans students and why it matters.
  • Connect with other families with LGBT children in your area to talk about your experiences. PFLAG hosts support groups for families around the state.
  • For educators, check out SafeZone’s resources on introducing students to LGBT identities and allyship.

Student Support