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Va. school board sued over transgender student policies

Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against Harrisonburg schools

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(Photo courtesy of Harrisonburg City Public Schools/Facebook)

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group for its lies and duplicitous propaganda about LGBTQ people has sued a Virginia school board over its transgender-inclusive policies.

The ADF, representing a group of six parents and teachers sued Harrisonburg City Public Schools. The lawsuit, filed in Rockingham County Circuit Court, alleges the policy violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

WHSV reported the policy in question requires teachers to ask students what their preferred names and pronouns are and to utilize those from that point forward.

If a student’s preferred name and pronoun differ from their biological sex at birth, the information is shared with a guidance counselor who will facilitate a conversation on gender identity with the student. However, teachers are not permitted to notify a student’s parents of the request.

The policy was adopted last August after the Virginia Department of Education issued a model policy on the treatment of trans students and required all school divisions in the commonwealth to adopt similar policies.

The lawsuit claims that the HCPS policy requirements go beyond what is set in stone by the Department of Education.

Amanda Reiman Johnson, a lawyer and legal analyst at AC Reiman Law Firm in Culpeper, spoke to WHSV offering her perspectives on the suit and its implications.

“The Virginia Supreme Court has routinely upheld that parents should have the ultimate say in dictating how their child is brought up whether that is regarding their education or their own religious beliefs,” she said.

“One of the key arguments in this entire case hinges on something that we saw earlier this year and in years prior regarding the COVID vaccine and what exactly does a sincere religious belief mean?” she added.

“Not just a closely held religious belief but a sincere religious belief. Then ultimately it might be able to tie into their defense that ‘hey this violates our First Amendment against our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech,” said Johnson.

“The defendants are saying listen we have to adhere to these state rules that provide some type of guidance when it comes to adhering to what the students want to be called,” said Reiman-Johnson.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools released the statement below in regard to the lawsuit.

“Our School Board has general nondiscrimination policies within its Policy Manual and maintains a strong commitment to its inclusivity statement, all of which is available on our website. In specific student situations, the focus is always to foster a team approach that includes and supports the unique needs of the student and family on a case-by-case basis. HCPS also has systems in place to listen to and respond to employee concerns. We are dismayed that this complaint is coming to us in the form of a lawsuit in lieu of the collaborative approach we invite and take to address specific needs or concerns, an approach that we believe best serves the interests of our students, staff, and families.”

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Virginia

Danica Roem announces run for Va. state Senate

Democrat is first out trans person seated in U.S. legislature

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem at the Victory Fund's National Champagne Brunch. (Blade file photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem on Monday announced she is running for the state Senate.

Roem, 37, is running to represent the newly redistricted Senate District 30, which includes western Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.

“I know the issues,” Roem told the Washington Blade before her announcement. “I am just as comfortable defending the Rural Crescent (in Prince William County) from development as I am about talking about Route 28 in Manassas.”

Roem in 2018 became the first openly transgender person stated in a state legislature in the U.S. Roem in 2019 became the first out trans state legislator to win re-election.

Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride in 2020 became the first out trans person elected to a state senate in the U.S. Roem would become the second openly trans state senator in the country if she were to win her race in 2023.

Former Manassas City Council member Ian Lovejoy is the only Republican who has announced he is running for the seat. Roem is the only Democrat who has thus far entered the race.

“The reason I’m running for state Senate in 2023 is to keep continuing the constituent work that I’ve been doing,” Roem told the Blade.

Roem noted 32 of her bills have passed in the General Assembly since her election.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, last year signed Roem’s bill that bans the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in Virginia. Roem’s measure that expanded the state’s free school breakfast and lunch programs also took effect in 2020.

Roem noted to the Blade that she voted to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program. Roem also pointed out that one of her nine bills that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has signed will reform the state’s guardianship program.

“We did big things this year with my legislative agenda and we took care of constituent service requests,” said Roem, while noting her platform before the 2023 election will be “fixing roads, feeding kids.”

Roem declared her state Senate candidacy roughly six months after Youngkin defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democrats lost control of the House of Delegates.

Democrats maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

Youngkin last month signed a bill that will require school boards to notify parents about “sexually explicit materials in the classroom.” The measure did not specifically define “sexually explicit content,” and activists have expressed concern that Virginia Republicans will seek to limit student access to LGBTQ materials.

Resolutions to repeal a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman died in the General Assembly earlier this year.

Roem noted she “spoke out on the House floor and told the stories of my LGBTQ constituents who are same-sex couples.” Roem in March also corrected state Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County) on the House floor when he misgendered her during a debate over a bill that would once again allow local police and prosecutors to withhold information about inactive cases if they receive a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I’m a good Democrat who also has a very strong bipartisan record,” said Roem. “You don’t pass 32 bills into law as a trans woman without infinite patience.”

Roem acknowledged she is “not getting a world of emails” from her constituents about efforts to repeal LGBTQ rights in Virginia, “but it has come up in conversations one on one.” Roem further reiterated that she will continue to take “on the very people who are stigmatizing trans kids.”

“We’re going to be taking them on directly,” she said. “I don’t attack my constituents. We serve them. They need to see someone in the halls of power who looks like them.”

“My name is the equality part of that platform,” added Roem. “My presence on the ballot as a trans woman running is the equality part of my platform.”

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Virginia

Youngkin signs bill to require parent notification of ‘sexually explicit materials’

Advocates fear Va. Republican efforts to limit student access to LGBTQ materials

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday signed into law a bill that requires school boards to notify parents about “sexually explicit materials” in the classroom.

State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico County) introduced Senate Bill 656 that does not specifically define what “sexually explicit content” is.

The measure “requires the (Virginia) Department of Education to develop no later than July 31, 2022, model policies and each local school board to adopt no later than January 1, 2023, policies for ensuring parental notification of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and include information, guidance, procedures and standards relating to (i) ensuring parental notification; (ii) directly identifying the specific instructional material and sexually explicit subjects; and (iii) permitting the parent of any student to review instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and provide, as an alternative, non-explicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests.”

“The bill provides that the local school board policies shall be consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the department,” reads SB 656. “The bill states that the provisions of the bill shall not be construed as requiring or providing for the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools.”

Youngkin took office in January, and Republicans regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates last November. Democrats maintain control of the Virginia Senate by a 21-19 margin.

LGBTQ activists and their allies in the wake of last fall’s election expressed concern that Youngkin and the Republican-controlled House would try to limit public school students’ access to LGBTQ-specific information.

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Virginia

Anti-transgender student bill dies in Va. House committee

Senate panel tabled identical measure last week

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(Public domain photo)

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Wednesday killed a bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts must implement the state Department of Education’s transgender and non-binary student guidelines.

The House Education Committee by an 11-11 vote margin tabled House Bill 988 that state Del. Scott Wyatt (R-Hanover County) introduced. State Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield County) is the only Republican who voted against the measure.

“HB 988, which would have removed the requirement for school boards to adopt model policies protecting trans and non-binary students, failed to report out of committee,” tweeted Equality Virginia. “988 is dead!”

The Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee last week tabled an identical bill that state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) introduced.

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