This week’s newsletter discusses the recent release of new VDOE policies, shares information about our upcoming Town Hall: “Supporting LGBTQ+ Students and Families,” highlights my recent participation in Network NOVA’s Women’s Summit, talks about how community members can stay safe during extreme heat, and spotlights select community engagements and events from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
Early last week, the Youngkin administration released its updated “model policies'' for our public schools. Although the title of the policy statement is itself disingenuously vague, these policies are focused on the treatment of transgender, nonbinary, and LGBTQ+ students and individuals in our public schools. The newly-released model policies guidance reverses the efforts made under the Northam administration to create safe, inclusive, and supportive environments for marginalized student communities.
The 2021 model policies were created under Northam’s Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) following a robust discussion within the General Assembly and the passage of legislation in 2020 which directed the VDOE to develop evidence-based and best practices model policies on the treatment of transgender and nonbinary students. The original model policies were created in collaboration with various stakeholders, including parents, educators, experts, and transgender students themselves.
Sadly, the Youngkin model policies were created with no attempts to include the insights and experiences of transgender youth and the families that love them. These model policies ignore current law and best practices recommended by professionals within the medical and mental health communities. Rather than creating a respectful and supportive environment, these model policies promote forcible “outing” of a student before they themselves are ready and increase the likelihood of bullying, harassment, and violence that many transgender students already experience.
The Youngkin model policies are simply cruel. They willfully ignore what trans youth, their supportive families, educators, and medical experts are telling us. Trans identities, family dynamics, youth peer societies, and the navigation of childhood, puberty, and young adulthood are all complex processes. Young people need space, respect, an opportunity to develop their own perspectives, and the guarantees of physical and emotional safety. These model policies provide none of these assurances.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Students & Families Town Hall
In light of the Youngkin model policies, many families with trans and LGBTQ+ children have reached out to my office seeking insights about next steps, legal concerns, and fears for the safety of their children. I will be hosting a town hall in collaboration with the ACLU of Virginia, Equality Virginia, and other organizations to assist and inform parents and their children.
The town hall is open to the public, but registration is required:
Date: August 16, 2023
Location: Brightpoint Community College, Chester Campus
Network Nova’s 2023 Women’s Summit
Network Nova’s 2023 Women’s Summit was held this past weekend and was an inspiring and empowering gathering of advocates, lawmakers, candidates, and numerous organizations focused on the many issues that impact women, families, justice, and electoral politics. I served as a speaker for two panel sessions: Money in Politics, which focused primarily on the need for campaign finance reforms in Virginia; and Forging Meaningful Engagement by Embracing Diversity, a session that highlighted the growth of diverse populations in Virginia and the ways in which minority communities are gaining voice and representation in electoral politics. We also discussed how to connect with and empower these minority communities.
The 2023 Women’s Summit served to highlight the voices of women of diverse backgrounds who are fully engaged with local, state, and federal governments, who are fighting for women’s rights, social and economic justice, voter protections, and reproductive rights. It was especially inspiring to see and hear from our young women leaders who are confident, well-versed on issues, and already fully engaged in leadership positions in many key organizations.
Staying Cool During Extreme Heat
This month is expected to be the world's hottest July and month on record. This record comes on the heels of a temperature record breaking month of June for portions of the United States. Incidents of extreme weather are projected to increase as a result of climate change. Many parts of the world, including in the US, will continue to see a substantial increase in the number of extreme heat waves each year. Because of dramatic climate change, staying vigilant and practicing safety measures during extreme heat is vitally important.
More than 700 people die from extreme heat in the United States each year. In the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, and Powhatan County alone, 108 cases of heat-related illnesses have occurred, part of the 1,351 statewide cases documented since May 2023. Practical steps can be made to avoid heat-related illnesses during the summer months. Health professionals advise that we:
Today and tomorrow, the City of Richmond will provide multiple cooling stations at the following locations for residents seeking relief from high temperatures:
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Last Friday, I joined Jamie Walter and her daughter, Colonel Gary Settle (Virginia State Police), Virginia State Police troopers; former Virginia State Senator Bill Carrico and director of the Virginia State Police Association; Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Carroll; and representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation. We honored the life and memory of Special Agent Michael Walter, tragically slain in the line of duty. We dedicated the Route 60/Midlothian Turnpike overpass at Route 288 in Chesterfield County as the Special Agent Michael T. Walter Memorial Bridge, honoring his life and service to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On Monday, I joined a large Richmond community in welcoming students, teachers, and staff “Back to School” to Fairfield Court Elementary and Cardinal Elementary. Also present were Richmond School Board Vice Chair Cheryl Burke and School Board Member Jonathan Young, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras, Fairfield Elementary Principal Angela Wright, Teacher of the Year Philip Canady, Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond City Council President Mike Jones, State Superintendent Lisa Coons, members of the Richmond Police and Fire Departments, and dozens of community members. These students are part of the RPS200 pilot program which provides students with an additional 20 days of instruction designed to address learning loss and support student learning growth.
Later on Monday, I traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the Virginia Interfaith Power and Light (VAIPL) annual Environmental Justice Retreat. Alongside legislators, academics, community organizers, public servants from our state agencies, and legislative staffers, we discussed, through guided workshops, how to better integrate environmental justice into our policy work. Pictured here, we are completing an activity led by Dr. Jeremy Hoffman and focused on integrating differing community priorities–from improving infrastructure to funding green spaces to increasing community engagement–into budgetary decisions.
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