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Recent Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) policies require students to seek parental permission to use preferred names and pronouns. 

Transgender, gender non-conforming and queer people are facing an annihilation of their rights in front of our very eyes. 

From Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” signed earlier this year, to a national bill introduced by House Republicans that would ban any discussion or material in federally funded programs about LGBTQ people, to measures at the local school board level in our area, politicians across the country are targeting the LGBTQ community. 

When K-12 students walk into their schools, put their items in their lockers and sit down in their classrooms, they still have their first amendment rights, “as long as you don’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate school policies that don’t hinge on the message expressed,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

This was decided in the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Students used black armbands to express their beliefs and were punished for it. The Supreme Court eventually sided with the students, citing that they weren’t being disruptive in wearing armbands to express themselves.

In Virginia, transgender rights have become contested in the public schools system. Recent policies concerning the rights of transgender students were proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in the 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools, which was released Sept. 16. 

These policies would require parental approval before students can adopt preferred names or pronouns at school. Moreover, the policies provide that students be organized on the basis of sex assigned at birth. This distinction will determine which restrooms and locker rooms students can use, and what activities, including sports, they can participate in. 

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) cites the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides equal protection under the law, as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex by educational institutions, among others as evidence supporting these policies. While the VDOE asserts these new policies are in accordance with these laws, they uniquely challenge the rights of transgender people and limit their ability to free expression.

Youngkin says this policy isn’t directly targeting transgender students and is instead involving parents in their children’s lives, but it establishes a barrier and puts these students in possible danger from their families, who they may not have come out to yet. 

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, transgender people ages 16 and up are “victimized four times more often than cisgender people.” These policies that are being implemented in the U.S. will lead to the continued harassment of transgender people. The Human Rights Campaign argues that violence toward the LGBTQ community can be “fatal.” 

These policies often maintain power against groups that question the status quo. 

And too often, media covers these policies with a simple statement from each side in an attempt to stay “objective.”

Well, objectivity is an impossible standard, one that we believe journalism as a whole is shifting away from.

Objectivity is the lack of bias toward one side over another and something that we as journalists were taught to always keep in mind. On paper, being objective is the ideal, but the reality of our world today is, we can’t and shouldn’t remain objective on all matters, especially when it concerns human rights.

Instead, we aim for fairness and accuracy. It’s accurate to say that policies about transgender students are creating controversy. It’s fair to speak to those who disagree with gender-affirming policies. It’s also accurate to say that these policies will harm transgender people.

Because in the end, this isn’t a political issue. This is a human rights issue. And human rights shouldn’t be up for debate.  

Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, including over half of transgender and nonbinary youth, according to The Trevor Project. Twenty-eight percent of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or instability in the past, and more than half ran away from home “because of mistreatment or fear of mistreatment due to their LGBTQ identity,” according to the Trevor Project. 

Acceptance of someone’s gender identity is associated with significantly lower odds of a suicide attempt among transgender and nonbinary youth — especially when that acceptance comes from parents and other family members. Gender affirmation is literally life saving. 

Policies across the country that have been proposed or accepted into law have the potential to out LGBTQ people to unaccepting environments, to thrust them into situations where they can’t be themselves and to be attacked by those who view them as less than human.  

We also recognize our own lack of diversity. Much like the makeup of the university we serve, our staff is largely white, cisgender and heterosexual. We recognize our own room to grow, and in the meantime, we want to tell the stories of this community in the fairest, most accurate way possible.

JMU has many LGBTQ advocacy, education and support organizations, including Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), a group that “works toward promoting James Madison University’s commitment to diversity through education, support, advocacy and the fostering of equity for all students, inclusive of all sexual orientation or gender identity and expression,” according to its website.

The Breeze reached out to SOGIE for the cover story this week, which looks at Youngkin’s proposed policy and local reactions to it, to gain a JMU perspective on the issue from experts in the field.

University Communications told us JMU would not be “participating” in this story. 

It’s somewhat understandable. JMU has received backlash for its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the past, like the diversity training video that was reported on by Fox News last year. 

There’s a lot on the line, and it may be easier to remain impartial. But sometimes objectivity isn’t an option.

The Breeze’s Editorial Board represents the official stance of the paper on important issues such as this one. For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Charlotte Matherly at breezeeditor@gmail.com.