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Hanover County school officials approve controversial transgender student policy

FILE- In this Aug. 23, 2007 file photo, a sign marks the entrance to a gender neutral restroom.
Toby Talbot
FILE- In this Aug. 23, 2007 file photo, a sign marks the entrance to a gender neutral restroom.

School boards across Virginia are struggling with how to handle transgender students and bathrooms.

The Hanover County School Board in central Virginia is moving forward with a controversial new policy requiring transgender students to submit a written request to the school board formally asking to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Board members approved the policy in a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, a move supported by Todd Gathje at the Family Foundation.

"For a young girl to have to be in a closed environment with someone of the opposite sex – I mean, you're in a vulnerable situation," Gathje says. "And I think we need to do our part to ensure that we're respecting those rights and those desires for privacy in addition to showing respect for those students who are struggling with gender dysphoria."

Matt Callahan at the ACLU of Virginia says the approach taken in Hanover County is deeply concerning.

"It erects all sorts of barriers that require transgender students to submit medical records, to out themselves to school board members," says Callahan. "And it's generally treating them differently from people who act in accordance with their biological sex that's assigned at birth."

The new policy in Hanover County requires parents and students to submit several kinds of documents to use the bathroom of their gender identity – including disciplinary records or criminal records, in addition to signed statements from a physician, therapist or counselor verifying the student has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.