A 2020 Washington Post article found that research suggested that there are about 4,000 transgender teenagers living in Virginia. Over the past two years, the General Assembly passed measures to help protect transgender students. 

Last month, legislators introduced a slew of education bills to the 2022 General Assembly. One by one, they’ve passed, failed, or entered further discussions. Senate Bill (SB) 20, which would’ve put transgender student protections under attack, didn’t make it very far.

In 2020, House Bill (HB) 145 and its twin bill in the Senate (SB 161), amended the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) got to work to amend the appropriate policies. Some of the changes included ensuring compliance with nondiscrimination laws, maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment, protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information, and more. 

This year, Republican Sen. Travis Hackworth proposed SB 20. The bill aimed to eliminate the requirement that each school board adopt policies consistent with the VDOE’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students. 

Narissa Rahaman, Equality Virginia’s executive director, spoke to Dogwood about SB 20 and the type of message she felt the bill could’ve sent to students.

“The goal of it [SB 20] was to send a message that trans students are not seen, or belong, or allowed—and we know wholeheartedly that is not the case. The intent of the bill was to just be harmful to transgender and non-binary students, and to make the jobs of public school teachers and administrators more difficult,” Rahaman said. “Its pure intent was to harm trans students, to make them feel less than, to make it seem that their success at school and their safety at school is not important or real or valid—when we know the bills that passed in 2020 that created the model policies passed with bipartisan support.”

On Feb. 3, the Senate Education and Health committee voted 8-5 to pass by SB 20 indefinitely, effectively defeating the legislation. It was a party-line vote, with Republicans voting to advance the bill and Democrats successfully defeating it.

The fact that the bill didn’t make it very far also sent a message. This time, an affirming one.

“I think it sends the message that [for] transgender and non-binary students in Virginia, that we’ve got your back, that these model policies were created to make sure that you have supportive school environments and that you are growing and learning in an environment that is positive and affirming for you,” Rahaman said. “I think the defeat of that bill sent a message that there is broad support across Virginia for these model policies. And that [for] transgender and non-binary students, Virginians want them to grow up and learn in environments that allow them to be their full, authentic selves.”