Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office on Wednesday chastised recent lawsuits challenging the state’s new guidelines for transgender students.
“[W]e don’t normally comment on litigation, but this is beyond the pale,” a Northam spokesperson told The Washington Times. “Virginia stands firmly with trans youth and their families, and we are proud to have adopted inclusive policies that ensure the safety and dignity of all children.”
The comments came in response to two lawsuits filed this week by faith-based conservative groups that argue the policies violate religious exercise and privacy rights.
Under the guidelines adopted on March 6, schools must allow “access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity.” The rule also applies to physical education and sleeping arrangements for overnight field trips.
Students, teachers and staff also must address transgender students’ by their gender pronouns “without any substantiating evidence.” Failure to do so may constitute discrimination or harassment.
A lawsuit filed Monday in Lynchburg Circuit Court by the Christian Action Network (CAN) argues that the new rules do not adhere to the state’s requirement for guidelines to be “evidence-based best practices.”
“Virginia’s transgender student policies show nothing but contempt and disdain for parental rights, traditional values, and the religious teachings of all major religions,” CAN President Martin Mawyer said in a press release. “These policies are dangerous, near-sighted, and insulting.”
CAN wants a judge to find probable cause for a reversible error in the guidance and to postpone the effective date until the case is closed.
A second lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court by The Family Foundation, which says the Virginia Department of Education violated a law requiring officials to respond to legal concerns about policies brought up during the public comment period.
One reportedly unaddressed concern mentioned in the lawsuit is the lack of policy exceptions for those who “maintain orthodox religious precepts about the distinct and complementary nature of male and female.”
“The Constitution of Virginia ensures that the fundamental right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs does not simply get erased simply because the state of Virginia chooses to dismiss those rights to fulfill its own ideological agenda,” Victoria Cobb, president of the foundation, said during a press conference.
The organization says the Education Department should set aside the effective date of the policies and send them back to officials so they can respond to the comments.
Fairfax County Public Schools Pride, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, told The Times that its members “are appalled and saddened that The Family Foundation of Virginia is launching this assault on the well-being of transgender and gender-expansive children.”
“We have been thrilled and reassured with the level of support that has been developing within Fairfax County Public Schools, and we have confidence in our leaders that these scare tactics will not cause them to hesitate to welcome trans and gender-expansive students in our schools,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Ken Blackstone, director of communications for the state Education Department, said in an email that the agency is reviewing the lawsuits.
The guidelines were created after the General Assembly passed a law last year requiring the department to develop model policies on the treatment of transgender students. Schools are required to implement policies that coincide with, or are more comprehensive than, the state guidelines by the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
“The key guiding principle of the model policies is that all children have a right to learn, free from discrimination and harassment,” the 26-page guidance document states.
Rules for transgender athletes — a topic of controversy in other states — are not included in the regulations because they are controlled by the Virginia High School League.
The league permits students to play sports on teams that differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. In order to be eligible, a school’s principal must sign a “Transgender Appeals” application confirming that the “student’s gender identity is bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics.”