Hanover County continues to marginalize transgender students

Illustration by Allison Bilbey

Rachel Spiller, Contributing Writer

Transgender students should not have to jump through hoops to be able to exist in schools. 

Over the past two years, the Hanover County School Board has been under fire for its blatant and disrespectful treatment of transgender students.

Its adopted policies, including anti-trans bathrooms and locker rooms, are a direct attack against trans youth and create a dangerous environment for students who are simply trying to receive an education.

The General Assembly passed a law in March 2020 mandating that all public schools in Virginia comply with and adopt policies to ensure appropriate access to restrooms in line with students’ identity.

The Virginia Department of Education released new model policies shortly after, including correct pronoun usage, access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms, privacy, security and dress codes. All schools in Virginia were required to adopt new and consistent policies in line with those of the DOE by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

Hanover began the 2021 school year without any of these models in place.

Hanover’s school board held a public consultation in November 2021 where they voted 4-3 against revisions to its current policies. The board’s failure to adopt new policies puts transgender youth at risk and creates a dangerous and uncomfortable environment for students in a place that should be safe for all. 

The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, later sued the Hanover County School Board on behalf of five families for the failure to protect their students. The litigation is ongoing in this case.

Now that Virginia is under a Republican governor, many are fearful for the continuation of anti-trans policies in public schools. 

Ahead of the current school year, Hanover County adopted a new anti-trans bathroom and locker room policy. The policy requires trans students to submit a request for their bathroom preference, the request then has to be approved by the school board, who has the power to deny it. 

A study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that in 2019, one out of every four transgender students reported being sexually assaulted due to restricted restroom and locker room access. 

Hanover’s failure to comply with state policies and implement their own prejudiced ones sets back the actions of the transgender rights movement drastically. It also allows for issues in public schools to arise, such as sexual harassment and assault, which could easily be avoided with prevention policies such as those mandated by the DOE. 

These actions remind us that discrimination is still alive and well, and how seriously it’s affecting today’s youth. 

Within the past week, the Virginia House of Delegates Education Committee advanced two bills to the house floor that further marginalize trans youth. 

House Bill 1387 proposes a total trans athlete ban, while the other proposes a forced outing guideline. HB 2432 would require educators to inform a student’s parent if their child has either come out as trans, or given educators any reason to believe they may identify with a gender different from their biological sex. 

Policies like these further stigmatize transgender, transitioning or experimenting youth and prevent them from being treated equally while in school. It also makes it harder enough than it already is for people to come out and live comfortably.  

In a progressing world, it’s hard to see so many people are still so dedicated to old school beliefs that let their prejudice come before the protection of students. Transgender students should be protected at all costs, just as cisgender students are, and no one should be fearful of using a private space in their place of education.

Those who identify as transgender have gone through struggles of discrimination, invalidation and marginalization well before their rights movement began in the 1950s. While legislation for basic human rights and protection for trans people has come a long way, there is still far more work to be done. 

Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, is an important resource for students to utilize if they feel they are being treated unfairly, being misrepresented or any other issue relating to their sex while in an educational space.

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