Heritage Walkout Protests Proposed Restrictions on Transgender Students

Students at Heritage High School protest Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed changes for LGBTQ student rights

Rory+Kaplan+speaks+during+the+walkout+at+Heritage+

Tristan Hasseman

Rory Kaplan speaks during the walkout at Heritage

Tristan Hasseman; Emma Sihavong, Editors in Chief

 At 2 pm on Tuesday September 27th, students at Heritage High School walked out of class in a peaceful protest against Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recently proposed bill concerning school policies for transgender students. Across Virginia dozens of schools voiced their support, including campuses in Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, and Arlington counties. The Pride Liberation Project, a student-led group based in Virginia that advocates for LGBTQ rights for young people organized many of the walkouts.

The Heritage walkout was led by Lily Narvaez and Olivia Harney. Worried about the increasingly limited rights for transgender students, Narvaez said “I just want to let the people know out here why we are walking out, and it’s because he [Youngkin] has proposed a new bill that is against transgender rights, and it basically strips away queer students rights. It’s not only that, but parents can drop kids out of counseling, which is not okay because students need it. I just think it is going to affect a lot of people out there who are queer“.

Gov. Youngkins proposed bill changes the entire landscape for LGBTQ+ students, especially those who identify as transgender. Proposed restrictions include requiring schools to ask parents about students names and pronouns, requiring the schools to defer to the parents on issues of students wishing to express a different gender at school.  Currently the 2021 model policies said schools should call students by their preferred pronouns and identities without having to confirm with the students parents. Critics of the administration say that the new policies will reduce transgender rights and force school districts to “out” students to their parents.

While Youngkins bill only focuses on changes in schools, many people fear that the home life of many students could be affected.  For some LGBTQ  students schools are a safe space where they are accepted by their friends, and they can express identities or genders they might not otherwise be able to at home.   Dian Greenough, a student a Heritage fears the repercussions trans and genderfluid students might face should the bill go into effect. “I identify as genderfluid, and if I had to conform to just one gender identity, it would cause a lot of gender dyspohria, as well as internalized depression. Making sure this bill does not pass, and making sure I can express myself comfortably, and show who I am and be comfortable in my own body” said Greenough.

Loudoun County Public Schools assured those who planned to participate that they would not be penalized considering the protests were peaceful, without considerable signage, and were in accordance with the Students Rights and Responsibilities. Numerous safety and security officers were present at the protest, as well as the Principal and other members of the Heritage administration staff.

The walkout remained peaceful and organized, as different students shared their reasons for attending. One such speaker was senior Rory Kaplan, who said they were participating in the walkout because of the personal implications the bill has. “I’m here for myself, as I am a part of the transgender community. I am also here for anybody who could not make it today because they had a test, or maybe because their school did not allow walk-outs. I’m really just out here to come together in a bundle of support, and to show that large communities that want to help each other truly exist” said Kaplan.

While many of the protesters were students who identify as LGBTQ+, many were allies who were there to show support and stand in solidarity with those who could be impacted should the bill be approve. Jonathan Kirkpatrick, a senior who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ said “I am here in support of others. What is important is that this bill is risking the persecution of others. This why we have to stand and support those affected”.

Not just a protest against Youngkin’s proposed changes, the walkout on Tuesday was also an act of solidarity and support. Landon Regner a participant said, “I have grown up with my entire family being queer basically, and so I try to be supportive as much as I can, and help out those who need it, which includes making sure this bill does not get passed.” 

Not only upset at Gov. Youngkin, students voiced frustration at the county and school district as well.  Jat, a student who is nonbinary and lesbian voiced their anger saying, “I hate that our school system wants to silence LGBTQ voices in the system, and it’s just really sad to see that it’s happening up here in a more liberal area. I think that the school will be able to see that more people support the LGBTQ community and will be more likely to not pass it”.  Eli Grivas, a student at Heritage said, “I walked out today in support of myself, as well as for my friends, and chosen family. This is really important to a lot of us, and there are a lot of people who do not really know what is going on in our county.

Students who chose to participate felt a sense of responsibility, not just to themselves, but to the entire trans community, especially those who weren’t able to protest or voice their concerns. “This is important for everybody who does not have a school who supports trans rights/LGBTQ+ rights. It is really upsetting that we as a community have just gotten the basic rights that we deserve, and it is already being taken away from us” said Grivas. 

In the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned, many women and members of the LGBTQ community fear for their rights as decisions at both the state and national level threaten to severely impact their lives. Senior Mia Sirinsky said,“I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and this bill is affecting a lot of members in my community. I am here to support those affected by this bill, as this is a scary time for them.”  For those here at Heritage, the fight is just beginning. A letter writing campaign is already underway, and the leaders are urging students to write or email state and local politicians to oppose the bill. 

Supporting one and other is essential to the LGBTQ community, and there was plenty of support at Heritage. Over 200 students walked out of class to either to protest, support, or educate themselves on the issue.  As local governments and schools boards prepare to discuss and debate whether or not to approve the proposed bill, many students in Virginia as well as across the nation will have their eyes on the ruling.

 

Interviews by: Emma Sihavong

Article by: Tristan Hasseman