Two Virginia-based organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights filed separate lawsuits on March 29 and March 30 challenging a state policy that requires public schools to allow transgender students to have access to “restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities” that conform to their gender identity.
The Virginia Department of Education developed guidelines to implement the policy, which took effect March 6. They were developed in compliance with a law approved by the Virginia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in March 2020 requiring the department to develop model school policies that protect transgender students from “discrimination and harassment” in public elementary and secondary schools.
The law is separate from the Virginia Values Act, the landmark LGBTQ nondiscrimination law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Northam in April 2020.
The Christian Action Network, a religious-right advocacy group that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group, filed the March 29 lawsuit in Lynchburg Circuit Court in Lynchburg, Va. The lawsuit names the Department of Education and its current director, Atif Qarni, as defendants.
The Family Foundation of Virginia, which has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and a supporter of so-called conversion therapy for minors and adults, filed the second lawsuit in Richmond City Court in the state capital on March 30. The Department of Education and its director are also named as defendants in that lawsuit.
Both lawsuits argue that the Department of Education violated state law by failing to adequately respond to concerns raised by members of the public at the time the guidelines were being developed during a public comment period. The lawsuits claim the policy and guidelines violate the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and parents who believe the guidelines will force female students to use the same locker rooms and bathrooms as “biological” male students.
The Family Foundation lawsuit calls on the court to stop the implementation of the trans guidelines and send them back to the Department of Education for revision.
The Education Department did not release a comment on the lawsuits at the time they were filed. But Alena Yarnosky, a spokesperson for Northam, told the Washington Post, “We don’t normally comment on litigation, but this is beyond the pale. 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.”
Fairfax County Public Schools Pride was among a number of LGBTQ organizations that spoke out against the lawsuits.
“The members of FCPS Pride, including parents, family members and educators, are appalled and saddened that the Family Foundation of Virginia is launching this assault on the well-being of transgender and gender-expansive children,” the group said in a statement. “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,” FCPS Pride’s co-president, Robert Rigby, said in the statement.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.