Virginia lawmakers leave LGBTQ students in a precarious position
Legislation proposed at the 60-day session of the Virginia General Assembly has angered LGBTQ activists in the state, as they say it will ban self-expression in schools and keep embarrassing relics of past homophobic legislation.
A bill giving parents the power to review sexually explicit content before it is taught in the classroom has passed both houses of the General Assembly and is expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Officially listed as SB 656, it also requires educators to provide alternatives to teaching materials and related academic activities that include sexually explicit content.
The bill, led by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, is in line with Youngkin’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign in which he promised to give parents a more involved role in determining their children’s agenda. .
“This administration has made it a priority to enact classroom censorship, politicize and censor our nation’s history and the lived experience of marginalized communities,” said Breanna Diaz, Policy and Advocacy Advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. The ACLU of Virginia is a private, nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ people in the Commonwealth through public education, litigation, and advocacy.
“[This bill]arguably, will erase LGBTQ history and LGBTQ personalities and movement leaders from the classroom,” she said.
Although lawmakers proposed the bill with one goal being to facilitate lucidity of programs between schools and parents, various local school divisions had already implemented systems that kept parents informed of any content. controversial that would be discussed in class.
“Parents are still getting copies of the playlists their kids are supposed to go through,” Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, said in a February interview with the Virginia Mercury.
The bill’s goal, activists say, is to remove from the classroom literature that explicitly addresses race and sexuality and hinders the ability of students and teachers to express their identity.
“SB 656 is redundant and redundant and adds an extra layer of work for educators to avoid confusion and possibly getting in trouble doing their jobs and teaching everything,” Diaz said. “They may have to develop multiple programs or simply delete entire books, lessons and studies.”
The General Assembly also struck down legislation that would have given voters the ability to decide whether or not to strike down a now-defunct Commonwealth provision that bans same-sex marriage.
The Marshall-Newman Amendment – approved in 2006 – defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and anti-LGBTQ groups have argued that repeal of the bill would help legalize polygamy and child marriage in the state.
“It is outdated, discriminatory, bigoted and has no place in our constitution,” said Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia. “Marriage equality is the law of the land,” she said.
Governor Youngkin opposed marriage equality. However, he also stressed that it was “legally acceptable” in Virginia and that he would “support it” as governor, the Washington Blade reported in January.
Activists in other states, like Texas, are also pushing to change parts of constitutions that cling to homophobic relics of history in legislation.
Those efforts were in vain because the Texas legislature failed to repeal a homophobic law that has been unenforceable since 2003, The Guardian reported in 2019.
“That bad example in Texas is what we see playing out in Virginia,” Diaz said.