RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Republican-led House of Delegates passed two bills this week that could impact transgender students across Virginia.
An emotional debate unfolded on Tuesday before the House approved a bill requiring parental notification when a transgender student comes out at school. It would apply if a student asks to use another name or different pronouns that stray from their biological sex.
The Democrat-led Senate has already rejected similar legislation but an election later this year could dismantle that barrier down the road.
Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) shared how coming out and “disappointing” her parents drove her to attempt suicide multiple times.
“This came from the shame directly related to being a lesbian. The shame that infiltrated every part of my life,” Adams said. “If you’re struggling and you go to a counselor and that’s not even safe, where do you go? How do you get help?”
House Education Committee Chair Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) promised to make changes when the bill gets heard in the Senate to address those concerns.
“That piece of the bill that gets rid of that safe space, that prevents a student from just having a simple conversation with the counselor, will not be in the bill,” Davis said.
That would put the bill out of step with draft guidelines for schools statewide, which are still being revised by Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration. The proposed standards say, “Parents must be informed and given an opportunity to object before counseling services pertaining to gender are given. “
The proposed change to the bill didn’t sit well at a press conference advocating for multiple “parental rights” bills on Wednesday.
“A lot of the problems are happening with the school counselor not including the parents, so I don’t know how the bill could maintain its integrity if it does not address the school counseling situation,” said Candi Cushman, a strategist with The Family Foundation.
Del. David LaRock (R-Loudoun), who sponsored the bill, clarified that the amendment would allow a student to have a conversation with a counselor about gender identity, but if the student informs the counselor of their preference to identify differently than their biological sex within the school, then they would have to notify the parents.
Another bill that won the House’s approval would prohibit biological males from competing on women’s sports teams from elementary school through college. Supporters argue it’s a matter of fairness but critics call it discrimination.
The Virginia High School League says that since 2013, they have reviewed 25 transgender student-athlete appeals to play. Of those, three were denied and the rest were approved through a case-by-case evaluation process.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William), the General Assembly’s first transgender lawmaker, said a one-size-fits-all ban is the wrong approach. She also said the bill is overly broad and has a number of structural flaws.
For example, Roem said the bill appears to require the inspection of every student-athletes genitalia every 12 months as a condition of participation.
“That means your children, who are not transgender, will have to go through that. That in it of itself is so invasive and so wrong,” Roem said.
Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach), who sponsored the bill, said student athletes are already required to get a physical each year.
“We have no new criteria, no new rules, no new forms,” Greenhalgh said during the floor debate.