Last week as thousands of students throughout Virginia walked out of school to protest the horrible and cruel revisions to school policy related to transgender students, I was reminded of another student walkout to protest an earlier unjust situation. The facilities provided to Black and white children for their education were unequal as were the programs for them. The year was 1951 when schools for Black and white children were segregated but in no way could they be considered equal as an earlier Supreme Court decision required. Sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns in Prince Edward County recognized that the white children in her county went to a new brick school while the Black children were relegated to a tarpaper shanty with a potbelly stove and outside toilet facilities. She organized a walkout of the Black children that resulted in a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was consolidated into the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that found that separate facilities were inherently unequal. White Virginia political leaders fought the decision in many ways with “Massive Resistance” for nearly two decades before the schools in Virginia were finally desegregated.
So important was the act by the brave teenager, Barbara Johns, that she and the progress her actions brought about are remembered on the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on Capitol Square in Richmond. As a young person she could see the ways segregation unfairly disadvantaged Black children, and she stood up to bring attention to the issue and ultimately the beginning of a solution to it. She deserves the statue near the Capitol that honors her.
The children numbering in the thousands who walked out of their schools this past week are to be congratulated and thanked. A model school policy to be adopted by local school boards related to transgender students issued several years ago has been proposed to be revised by the current administration in Richmond. The proposed guidelines are being characterized as cruel and inhumane for transgender students.
The walkouts were organized by a youth LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, Pride Liberation Project. A statement the group issued said that “these revised guidelines will only hurt students in a time when students are facing unparalleled mental health challenges and are a cruel attempt to politicize the existence of LGBTQIA+ students for political gain.” The political gain references the campaign of the current governor that pitted parents and their rights as broadly defined by the administration against teachers and the schools that have a responsibility to all children. Putting transgender students in the middle of this political debate, it seems to me, can only be considered cruel and inhumane.
The proposed revised guidelines are open for public comment until Oct. 26, 2022. Already ultraconservative groups are encouraging their members to record their support for the revisions. Those of us who recognize that the proposed revisions are a mistake need to record our support for the current policy without revisions at https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/comments.cfm?GDocForumID=1953.