The General Assembly is currently considering bills that would create a statewide policy for the treatment of transgender students in Virginia’s public schools. In this open letter, Side By Side and over a dozen other youth organizations explain how important it is to pass these bills.
All students deserve an equal opportunity to thrive in our school system, regardless of gender identity or expression. Faculty, staff, and administrators in our schools deserve to be equipped with appropriate policies and procedures that support all their students.
Transgender students are a part of every community in Virginia and face immense bullying and harassment in our school system. GLSEN’s 2017 School Climate Survey found that 62% of LGBTQ+ high school students in Virginia experienced verbal harassment, while 26% experienced physical harassment because of their gender expression. According to Side by Side’s November 2019 youth survey, 21% of transgender youth were “always” afraid of getting hurt by someone at school and 72% had some level of fear attending schools in Virginia. Like all youth, transgender students deserve to be protected by inclusive anti-bullying policies.
The bullying and harassment that transgender youth face at school often leads to depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide. A September 2019 study found that 44% of transgender youth had seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 16% of their cisgender (non-transgender) peers. Side by Side’s November 2019 youth survey found 62% of transgender youth in our program had seriously considered suicide in the last six months.
Creating inclusive policies for transgender students is not just best practice — it can literally save lives. A March 2018 study found that consistently using transgender students’ chosen name showed a decrease of 65% in suicidal attempts. GLSEN found that 27% of students in Virginia were actively prevented from using their chosen name in school. Transgender students deserve respect and dignity in their schools.
Inclusive policies for transgender students will promote a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students and ensure consistent policies across all public schools in Virginia. Schools that have inclusive policies ensure that transgender students can not only survive, but thrive on their academic journey.
Side by Side and the undersigned Virginia youth organizations recognize the need to support, affirm, and celebrate all our students. We support SB 161 and HB 145 because the transgender youth we work with deserve a safe and affirming school environment to learn and grow.
Side by Side VA, Inc.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Boys & Girls Club of Metro Richmond
Girls For A Change
Greater Richmond SCAN
Rainstorms to Rainbows Consulting
Richmond Young Writers
Safe Space NOVA
Visual Arts Center of Richmond
Virginia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs
He, She, Ze & We
Photo by Zackary Drucker, via the Gender Spectrum Collection