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600+ Students Raise Alarm Over Potential Virginia Department of Education “Don’t Say Gay” Policies

FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA – On Wednesday, the Pride Liberation Project released a letter with 600+ signatures from students across Virginia calling for the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) to clarify regulations that may label all references to LGBTQIA+ people and events as “sexually explicit content.”

A 2022 General Assembly law, SB 656, requires the Virginia Department of Education to develop model policies that notify parents when “any instructional material” contains “sexually explicit content.” The law also allows parents to opt their student out of any instruction that involves material deemed to be “sexually explicit,” without any input from a student. All school boards in Virginia are required to implement regulations that comply with these model policies by January 1st, 2023.

Under current Virginia law, “homosexuality” is explicitly defined as “sexual conduct.” Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about Queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum.

“Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health. I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class,” said one student who attends school in Loudoun County. Another student in Richmond City Public Schools said they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” Given the dangerous ramifications of SB 656’s unclear guidance on LGBTQIA+ representations, 600+ students signed a letter asking the DOE to develop guidelines that
explicitly state that instruction about LGBTQIA+ people is not inherently sexual.

It is imperative that the DOE ensure its model policies do not erase our communities. The full text of the letter is available here: https://tinyurl.com/PLPDOELetter.

The Pride Liberation Project is a student-run group of Queer and allied students in Virginia who advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ students. Representatives of the Pride Liberation Project have testified at the General Assembly and school board meetings, and the organization continues to lobby the General Assembly and school boards to promote the interests of LGBTQIA+ students.