Thousands of Virginia students walk out over proposed anti-trans policies

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policies would prevent students from using their correct name or pronouns without a court order

Thousands of students at schools across Virginia walked out of classes Tuesday in protest over proposed statewide anti-trans policies. 

The walkouts were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, a Virginia LGBTQ2S+ youth-led advocacy group, which lists more than 90 middle and high schools as participating. Walkouts happened throughout the day, with the earliest starting at 7 a.m. at schools in Culpeper County, and the latest at 3 p.m. at Longwood University.

“Trans students are students just like everybody else. We don’t want to be out here fighting for our rights and protesting—we want to be in calculus class and learning how to drive,” Ranger Balleisen, a trans senior at a school in Fairfax County who helped organize the protests, told NBC News. “Instead, we have to be here, because they’re trying to take away our rights.”

Students participating in one walkout carried picket signs and Pride flags and chanted “Trans rights are human rights,” and “D-O-E (Department of Education), leave us be,” according to the Associated Press

The action came in response to new policies announced earlier this month by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, which students say target trans students’ rights in schools. Students and parents would have to file legal documents to change names and pronouns, and trans students would also be banned from using restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender. 

“A lot of students [are] scared at the prospect of losing … the space where they can be themselves and express themselves freely,” Natasha Sanghvi, a senior at a school in Vienna, told Washington Post.

The proposed policy also includes a provision requiring schools to “keep parents informed about their children’s well-being,” including “matters related to their child’s health, and social and psychological development.” This vague wording could lead to teachers being forced to out queer or trans students to their parents. 

“I know people personally who are out at school but not at home,” Casey Calabia, a senior at a school in Fairfax County, told USA TODAY. “If they got outed through this transgender model policy, it would absolutely ruin their lives. They do not have supportive households.” 

The proposed changes are currently undergoing a 30-day public comment period, and have received tens of thousands of responses thus far. The state school board does not vote on the policy, but the superintendent of Public Instruction may modify the proposal based on comments. 


Organizers are planning their next steps, from encouraging students to submit feedback to the proposal, to attending school board meetings.

“We’re asking school boards to reject these proposed guidelines because we know that, ultimately, implementation is going to fall on each individual school board,” Rawal, an 18-year-old university freshman who has continued working as a student organizer after graduating high school, told Teen Vogue, “The more school boards reject these guidelines, the more students can continue to be protected in the classroom.” 

In 2020, under former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia passed legislation requiring schools to adopt policies designed to protect LGBTQ2S+ students. Model policy complying with state law was introduced in 2021. However, only 10 percent of school boards in the state adopted said policies, according to the Virginia Mercury.

As anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation has swept the U.S. over the past several years, student walkouts in protest of the policies have grown in frequency and scope. Earlier this year, hundreds of Florida students walked out in response to the state’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law, which subsequently passed in March. And students in democratic-leaning states like Massachusetts and California have organized walkouts in solidarity with youth in states like Florida and Texas, which have seen the brunt of the anti-LGBTQ2S+ push. 

V.S. Wells

V. S. Wells is a British writer living in Vancouver, B.C., with bylines in Slate, VICE and Autostraddle. Please stop asking them about Brexit.

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