Virginia Democrats are fighting to abolish single-sex bathrooms in public schools and keep parents in the dark when their children assume different genders at school.
Democrats on the state legislature's rules commission in a 5-4 vote on Monday rejected Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R.) plan to protect same-sex spaces and increase parents' role in education. If the plan is adopted, administrators and teachers would have to seek parents' consent before referring to children by different names or pronouns. The plan would also preserve sex-specific sports teams, locker rooms, and bathrooms.
The vote is the latest attempt by Virginia Democrats to block Youngkin's transgender policies. Delegate Elizabeth Guzmán (D.) in October floated a bill designed to counter the governor's policies, which would make it a crime for parents to ignore their children's chosen name, pronouns, or sexual orientation. School districts in liberal enclaves across the state have pledged to flout Youngkin's plan if implemented.
A spokeswoman for Youngkin said the governor did not support the commission's decision.
The commission's vote was largely formal. The model policy, which was introduced in September, will be finalized by Virginia's Department of Education and does not require legislative approval. The policy improves upon guidelines put in place last year by disgraced former Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D.), which mandated that schools abide by names, pronouns, and bathroom choices that correspond with a student's perceived gender.
The state Education Department is "in the process of reviewing more than 71,000 public comments" before the state superintendent announces the final version, according to a spokesman. He did not give a timeline. Education Secretary Aimee Guidera on Monday testified in support of the policy before the commission.
"Children do not belong to the state," she said. "They belong to families."
Democrats have not made use of the rules commission since they won a majority in the General Assembly in 2020. Republican delegate Chris Head noted that the commission's chairman gave left-wing groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Virginia the chance to testify while limiting parents' groups to brief public comments.
Parents' groups weren't "afforded the opportunity to be a part of the official presentation here as was afforded the other folks," Head said. "So discrimination is fine for the other side."
Democratic senator R. Creigh Deeds, who chairs the commission, told the Washington Free Beacon that he "did not in any way limit" the presentations of either side.
"We asked the administration to address the rules changes. There was no other party to the matter," he said. "We asked the ACLU to present the other side. The ACLU partnered with Equality Virginia."
Head disagreed, saying the two groups "were each given extended time to present their arguments, complete with supporting slide decks, against the model policy."
"All supporters of the governor’s model policy were denied the courtesy that was afforded to groups in opposition," Head told the Free Beacon. "Democrats wanted a showcase to attack the governor, but what they got was a room full of angry parents who reminded Virginians that Democrats are still all-in on allowing schools to keep secrets from parents."
Harry Jackson, a parent of Fairfax County students who submitted a public comment, told the Free Beacon that it has been "terrifying to see the politicalization of the K-12 education in Virginia."
"Parents do not know they are in custody battle with these activists," he said.
Stephanie Lundquist-Arora, a mother of three from Fairfax County who spoke during the public comment period, said that "a tyrannical minority has taken transgender policy so far that it is threatening freedom and parental rights."
"Not only are parents' rights to raise their children formally being dismantled, but many Virginians are afraid to even discuss it," she told the commission. "We need to reset the scales, and I believe Governor Youngkin's Model Policies will help us to do that."
Youngkin was elected in 2021 after campaigning to defend parents' rights in education. After taking office, he signed nine day-one executive orders to ban critical race theory from classrooms and investigate wrongdoing in Loudoun County schools, among other measures.
Update 12/22/2022 at 1:30 p.m.: This piece has been updated with additional comment.