Home Waynesboro High School students petition against transgender policy changes

Waynesboro High School students petition against transgender policy changes

Rebecca Barnabi

Waynesboro High School staff and students presented Waynesboro School Board with a petition protesting proposed policies by Gov. Glenn Youngkin for transgender and nonbinary public school students at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

“My hope for all of our children — is that all our children have the tools and support they need to flourish,” Jordan Zipser of Staunton said. Zipser spoke before the school board Tuesday night as a volunteer representative of the Shenandoah Valley LGBTQ Center based in Staunton. “Pretty much every parent I know wants their child to be themselves.”

As a parent of three children, Zipser said that the governor’s policies are dangerous for transgender students. LGBTQ students “get to be ourselves until somebody else feels uncomfortable.” Forced outing of LGBTQ is a form of discrimination. Bullying of LGTBQ students has a long history in American schools.

“How people are treated indicates how much they are valued,” Zipser said. Zipser encouraged the school board to show transgender and nonbinary students “they matter” and reject the governor’s policies.

Anhthu Nguyen is executive director of the Shenandoah Valley LGBTQ Center, which serves the entire Valley, including Waynesboro.

“It felt important to address the school board today,” Nguyen said. Tuesday’s meeting will likely be the school board’s last meeting before Youngkin makes a decision on the policies for Virginia’s public schools.

Nguyen grew up queer in a traditional Vietnamese family, and understands what students will go through if the policies are approved.

“I viscerally oppose these revised policies,” Nguyen said. Members of the LGBTQ community deserve “privacy, dignity and respect.”

“This puts them directly in harm’s way,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen hopes the school board will center on the needs and safety of transgender and nonbinary students when considering the policies after the Department of Education’s decision.

“Until people of all genders and identities can be who they are without fear, our work in the community will not be done until they can,” Nguyen said.

Laura Riggan is Social Studies Department Lead at Waynesboro High School and an adviser for the school’s Student Equity Council. She said the petition presented to the school board Tuesday night has 160 signatures.

Riggan said the day before the school board meeting was a day of professional development for teachers. She was able to spend the day focused on social justice, and social and emotional wellness of staff and students.

“It felt like a productive and important day,” she said. “What I liked most about it was the focus on relationships and environment of our workplace, In my opinion, after a pretty long 10 years as a teacher, that is the affect of our schools that makes the most significant difference in the success or failure for our kids, and in attracting and retaining teachers,” Riggan said.

The petition was the students’ way to show that acceptance, school environment and mental wellness matter.

“Please pay close attention to what our school community is saying in that petition, and continue to do what you are doing to protect the rights of our transgender students and all of our students in school communities by maintaining policies regarding transgender youth,” Riggan said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.