(WB) Equality Virginia on Tuesday discussed proposed guidelines for transgender rights in schools during a virtual town hall that guided participants through crafting public comments in support of the guidelines which solidify protections for trans students and school staff.

Equality Virginia hosted the event along with Side By Side, an LGBT youth advocacy organization based in Virginia. The event is in response to new guidelines proposed by Virginia’s Department of Education that would codify requirements for schools making their own LGBT policies.

The guidelines would require schools to accept name and pronoun changes, eliminate gender-specific attire from dress codes and uniforms and allow students and staff to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. 

The proposed guidelines are up for a 30 day comment period which starts Jan. 4 and ends Feb. 3. The hosts of Tuesday’s event showed participants how to submit comments so that they could be considered by the DOE. 

Equality Virginia and Side By Side were joined by Virginia First Lady Pam Northam and Gavin Grimm, a trans activist who filed a lawsuit against his Virginia school district in 2015 when it refused to let him use the men’s bathroom, despite Grimm being a man.

Grimm said he was given the option of using the girls’ restroom, the nurse’s office or a gender-neutral bathroom that had been constructed in a janitor’s closet. He was 15 when he first filed the lawsuit and is now 21. His case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, could potentially go before the U.S. Supreme Court next year after a federal court ruled in his favor in September. 

“I should not have had to take that up at 15 and no child should have had to,” Grimm said during the event. “These critical protections that are now being put in place … would have protected me in my school. I’m excited to see a future where what happened to me just won’t happen again, at least in Virginia.”

Side By Side Executive Director Ted Lewis led the audience through different ways it could respond to the proposed guidelines. A big concern for many who wish to respond is the fact that the comments are made public, Lewis said. Side By Side created an anonymous template for those who want to protect their identity. 

“We have seen unfortunately when transgender students and their families share their experiences, sometimes they receive some hate mail or some really negative comments, and even things beyond that, including threats,” Lewis said. “And because of that, we want to make sure that folks are doing what’s best for them and their family.”

But Lewis encouraged those who attended the event to spread the word within their own communities and their own social circles. 

“Our hope is that we have as many people as possible supporting this and offering positive public feedback,” he said “We know that a lot of folks are excited to have this policy come out but you have to remember we’re now 12 or 11 months from when the initial bill passed. We really want to ask folks to engage in that public comment so I would not be shy and spreading the word.”


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