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Va. lawmakers leave LGBTQ students in precarious position

‘Politicizing and censoring our nation’s history’

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected to sign a bill giving parents the power to review sexually explicit content before it is taught in the classroom. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation proposed during the Virginia General Assembly’s 60-day session has angered LGBTQ activists in the state as they say it will bar self-expression in schools and uphold troublesome relics of past homophobic legislation. 

A bill giving parents the power to review sexually explicit content before it is taught in the classroom was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and is likely to be signed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

Officially listed as SB 656, it also requires educators to provide alternatives to instructional material and related academic activities that include sexually explicit content. 

The bill, spearheaded by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, is in line with Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign during which he promised to give parents a more involved role in determining their children’s curriculum. 

“This administration has made it a priority to enact classroom censorship, politicizing and censoring our nation’s history and the lived experience of marginalized communities,” said Breanna Diaz, policy and advocacy counsel at American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. ACLU of Virginia is a private non-profit organization that advocates for LGBTQ individuals in the commonwealth through public education, litigation, and advocacy.

 “[This bill], arguably, is going to erase LGBTQ history and LGBTQ figures and movement leaders from the classroom,” she said.

Although lawmakers proposed the bill with one of the goals being to facilitate curricula lucidity between schools and parents, various local school divisions already had systems in place that kept parents aware of any controversial content that would be discussed in classes. 

“Parents always get copies of the reading lists that their children are expected to go through,” said Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, in a February interview with the Virginia Mercury. 

The goal of the bill, activists say, is to remove literature from the classroom that explicitly discusses race and sexuality and thwarts students’ and teachers’ ability to express their identities. 

“SB 656 is duplicative and redundant and adds an additional layer of labor on educators to avoid confusion and possibly getting in trouble for doing their job and teaching everything,” said Diaz. “They might have to develop multiple curricula, or just outright remove entire books, lessons, and studies.” 

The General Assembly also struck down legislation that would have given voters a chance to decide on whether to overturn a now-defunct provision in the commonwealth that bans same-sex marriage. 

The Marshall-Newman Amendment — approved in 2006 — defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and anti-LGBTQ groups argued that repealing the bill would help legalize polygamy and child marriage in the state.

“It is defunct, discriminatory, bigoted, and it has no place in our constitution,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “Marriage equality is the law of the land,” she said. 

Gov. Youngkin has opposed marriage equality. He, however, has also stressed that it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor, the Washington Blade reported in January.

Activists in other states, such as Texas, are also pushing to amend parts of the constitutions that clutch onto homophobic relics of history in legislation.

These efforts have been in vain as the Texas Legislature failed to repeal a homophobic law that has been unenforceable since 2003, The Guardian reported in 2019.

“That bad example in Texas is what we’re seeing play out in Virginia,” said Diaz.

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Virginia

Glenn Youngkin hosts Pride Month reception

Republican Va. governor criticized over support of anti-LGBTQ bills

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on June 5 hosted a Pride Month reception in Richmond.

A public schedule that Youngkin’s office released noted the event took place at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, and was “closed press.” The advisory also notes Youngkin hosted members of his LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and Log Cabin Republicans, and described the event as a “community reception.”

Youngkin in previous years has hosted Pride Month receptions, even though Equality Virginia and other advocacy groups have criticized him for supporting anti-LGBTQ bills.

The Republican governor in March signed a bill that codified marriage equality in Virginia. Youngkin last month vetoed a measure that would have expanded the definition of bullying in the state. 

Youngkin’s spokesperson has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about the June 5 reception.

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Virginia

Report: Justice Department investigating anti-trans violence at Norfolk high school

Trans student’s mother said federal authorities contacted her

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Justice Department (Bigstock photo)

The Justice Department has reportedly launched an investigation into violence against transgender and Latino students in Norfolk, Va.

WHRO reported Melissa Corrigan earlier this year spoke with an attorney from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division about violence that her trans son experienced at Norview High School. The Hampton Roads public radio station said Corrigan contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk more than a year ago.

Corrigan told WHRO that her son suffered harassment, physical violence because of his gender identity. She also said he was sexually assaulted in a bathroom.

“He was definitely feeling targeted because of it,” Corrigan told WHRO, referring to her son’s gender identity. “And more than that, he wasn’t feeling like he was getting any protection from administration.” 

Corrigan said her son eventually withdrew from Norfolk Public Schools. She said a Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney met with her and her son for two hours in March.

WHRO also reported Latino students at Norview High School said they had been assaulted because of their race. Their families, like Corrigan, said administrations did nothing to stop the violence.

The Biden-Harris administration has said Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination in schools based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is among the state attorneys general who have challenged new Title IX rules that expand protections for LGBTQ students.

WHRO reported Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong declined an interview request. The local U.S. Attorney’s Office did not confirm whether an investigation is underway.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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