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How to Combat Anti-Trans School Policies

Advocates for Youth's Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes advises The Advocate Channel on how we can all protect trans kids.

With alarming pushback against LGBTQ+ identities in public schools nationwide, Tracy E. Gilchrist of Advocate Today sat down with Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, Vice President of Policy, Partnerships, and Organizing at Advocates for Youth, to discuss what can be done to protect queer children.

Advocates for Youth is a national reproductive and sexual health organization that focuses on the needs of minors. Rhodes is a proponent of comprehensive sex education and LGBTQ+ rights who has spent nearly a decade with the organization lobbying for culture and policy shifts.

Recently, Advocates for Youth has been working to combat policies from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, whose Department of Education issued rollbacks on previous policies that affirmed the gender identities of trans students in state public schools.

The new policies require that school employees refer to students by the names and pronouns on their official records, while also mandating that students participate in athletic teams or extracurricular activities that correspond with their assigned sex. The policy orders that students “shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires.” If a student wishes to change their pronouns or use different facilities, they must obtain parental permission.

"There's language in these guidelines that make it possible for teachers to be forced to out LGBTQ youth, specifically trans and nonbinary young people, to their parents," Rhodes confirms. "Taking away any confidentiality and safety that young people feel in schools already."

Rhodes reveals that over 20 bills have been passed across the country just this year targeting trans youth in schools, who already face disproportionate risk of depression and suicidal ideation. Schools passing restrictions on transgender students strip them of a safe, nurturing environment, according to Rhodes.

"In Virginia, it's interesting because many of these policies around LGBTQ youth are at the school district level. We know there are a number of schools in the state of Virginia that support their LGBTQ students, and specifically their trans students," Rhodes shares. "So, this move by the Governor is really an attack on trans students. It's reprehensible, and Governor Youngkin is joining the ranks of these extremist and transphobic officials who are creating policies that are harming trans and nonbinary young people."

Youngkin's policies have since sparked a walkout in protest with over 12,000 students participating, but Rhodes says there's more that needs to be done on at local and national levels.

"Virginia isn't the only place that's enacting harmful, hateful legislation. It's across the country," she says. "All people should be paying attention, they should be advocating, they should be figuring out what's going on in their own community, and reaching out to their representatives. Regardless of what state or community you live in, ensuring and advocating for inclusive policies around trans young people, and really pushing for the notion that trans young people deserve to be affirmed and celebrated for who they are, and not made to feel afraid in their homes and communities, and especially their schools."

Catch the full interview below.

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