Queer and Trans Social Workers’ statement on trans students in Virginia public schools
Dear SSW Community,
It has been an exciting fall semester. Watching the transformative power of social work education in the lives of students always fills me with an immense sense of hope. Part of that educational experience is about learning how to elevate and highlight voice. Empowering our communities to use their voice is a critical piece of the work we do as social workers, and it is in that spirit that I share the statement below written by the Queer and Trans Social Workers at VCU. Virginia and the nation continue dialogue and consideration of policies that directly impact vulnerable children. As you consider potential policies where you live, and seek to make meaning in your own personal and professional life, you might find the information offered by the students helpful.
If you would like to review the proposed Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Viriginia Public School and submit public comment you can access that at https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/GDocForum.cfm?GDocForumID=1953.
Thank you all for your continued commitment to the work that we do. I am grateful for our caring and committed community.
Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., LCSW
Interim Dean and Associate Professor
QTSW Statement on Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools:
We are the Queer and Trans Social Workers at VCU, a student-led organization that focuses on uplifting queer and trans voices across campus and learning about the social work field. In our studies, we are taught that social work is a field in which social workers work with vulnerable populations, help communities through challenges, and organize people to fight for social change. With the proposed 2022 Model Policies, an already vulnerable population will be hurt and the trans community will be damaged. That is why we must speak out, as it is our duty as future social workers to stop these policies before they go into effect.
These policies were created, according to Gov. Youngkin’s administration, with the intention of helping children and creating a safe space where children will not be harassed or discriminated against based on their gender. However, with the Model Policies, and with the possibility of requiring teachers to report to parents if their child is going by a name other than their legal name, the administration is doing more harm than good. “Outing” a child (exposing a child’s gender identity and/or sexuality without the child’s knowledge or consent) harms the child irreparably. It takes away the chance for a child to come out on their own terms, forces children into a label, and is a violation of privacy. Forcing teachers to do so by informing the parent about the child’s chosen identity is both uncomfortable for the teacher and damaging for the child. Chosen identities are important to a child, as it gives them the chance to grow and learn more about themselves; this is their form of self-expression. To strip that away by forcing all three parties (child, teacher and parent) into an unnecessary and uncomfortable confrontation is demeaning to the child. In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, transgender children are more at risk of child abuse, with 73 percent of respondents stating that they were abused psychologically, and 39 percent stating that they were abused physically. By forcibly outing these children, their very well-being is at risk.
Trans people already face violence. According to the most recent U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly half of the respondents reported that they have experienced verbal harassment because they are transgender, and one in 10 respondents stated that they have been physically attacked because of their identity. Additionally, according to the CDC, trans children are more at risk of violence victimization. If the Youngkin administration chooses to follow through with these policies, it is putting more trans children at risk by invalidating their experiences, forcibly outing them, and making an unsafe environment. The governor claimed in his campaign that, if elected, he would have the safest communities and have the best schools. However, that cannot happen if, as is evident with these policies, he is actively encouraging violence against trans youth. A child’s identity is something sacred, and must be disclosed on their terms and to whomever they want to tell; there is a reason why a trans child may keep their identity secret from their parent/guardian, and most likely it’s because they are not ready, or, they know harm will come to them because of their identity.
Forcing transgender kids to conform to the gender they were assigned is not only forcing these children into a box, but is also creating an environment in which students feel like their needs are not met. Forcing kids to do school activities based on their gender assigned at birth is discriminatory; in fact, it can also incite more risk of harrasment and even violent behavior toward trans children in those sex-assigned spaces by other students. Imagine a child who has both physically and socially transitioned from a male to a female. If she is female-presenting, how would it look if she were to enter the men’s bathroom? There is a chance that harm could come to this person, simply because of her gender identity and the fact that she is not male-presenting in a male-dominated space. Similar situations like the one described will happen more frequently if these policies were to be put into effect. In a binary-dominated world, violence can and will happen simply because of a person’s identity; if this policy is put into effect, the rate of violence against transgender children will increase.
Speaking from a strictly legal standpoint, these policies violate Title IX. In 2021, the Department of Education stated that Title IX applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These policies are discriminatory, as they specifically target trans children; discriminating because of gender identity violates Title IX. A similar policy was passed through the legislative system of North Carolina in 2016; this policy went by the name “HB2.” HB2 was similar in the sense that both HB2 and the 2022 Model Policies restricted bathroom usage based on “biological sex,” rather than gender. Soon, North Carolina’s governor was sent a letter from the Department of Justice stating that HB2 was in violation of Title IX, and must therefore be amended. If the governor were to continue to put his policies into effect, there would be no doubt that he would receive a similar letter from the Department of Justice.
The Model Policies will not accommodate and ensure a high-quality education for all students in Virginia. These proposed policies target a marginalized group that has faced violence and harassment from many sources. It’s not only their academic performance at risk, but their well-being. Parents and guardians should have some say on a child’s development, but having full control on a child’s beliefs and, most importantly, their chosen identity, should not be dictated by the parent. The 2022 Model isn’t going to protect children. The 2022 Model will harm children. Transphobic rhetoric and fear-mongering already have affected many trans individuals’ well-being.
Please take this letter seriously and listen to the people who will be impacted by the new policies. If the Youngkin administration cares about the well-being of students, then it should reconsider these policies.
– The Queer and Trans Social Workers of Virginia Commonwealth University