In this week’s newsletter, I will talk about the Youngkin administration’s attacks on transgender students and their families within the Commonwealth’s schools, share updates from community partners, reflect on events from this past week, discuss early voting, and wish all community members who are celebrating a happy Rosh Hashanah. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed.
Transgender Student Policies
In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation that required the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to establish model policy guidelines for the treatment of transgender students. These guidelines are to serve as a template for school districts to adopt. A key provision of those guidelines is that schools maintain “a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students.”
Last Friday evening, Youngkin’s VDOE released new policy guidelines that reverse protections, privacy rights, and acknowledgments of transgender students and their identities. These proposed changes are deeply troubling because they endanger the lives of trans and non-binary youth. At a time when young people are generally facing severe mental health challenges, the lack of compassion and care for transgender children is particularly egregious. A study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed alarming levels of attempted suicide among transgender youth. According to the Trevor Project, nearly 30% of LGBTQ youth reported being homeless at some point in their lives; for trans youth, that number goes up to 40%. For LGBTQ youth, situations of teen homelessness are the result of family rejection.
Unlike other states that have passed legislation over the past two years to limit the rights and protections of transgender children at school, the move by the Youngkin administration is a unilateral attempt by the executive branch to reverse existing law without due process in the General Assembly. Simply put, the Governor does not have this authority.
Federal law and state law protect and affirm LGBTQ individuals in issues of privacy, housing, freedom from discrimination, and more. The Youngkin administration’s actions will face legal and legislative challenges.
I am unequivocal in my support for trans children, the families that love them, and the numerous organizations that work to ensure their safety, dignity, and public presence. I will continue to fight for legal protections so that these children, and their peers, have opportunities to learn within school environments that are supportive and nurturing.
Thank You - Community Resource Fest
This past Saturday, Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones and I co-hosted our inaugural Community Resource Fest. Nearly thirty community organizations were represented, including local agencies, nonprofits, healthcare providers, K-12 and higher education institutions, government offices, and many others. These organizations and the people that serve in them do the hard, necessary work of ensuring our communities are cared for. I thank all of our providers who came to the Broad Rock Sports Complex this weekend to connect with community members.
Coordinating this event with the Councilman and his staff was a real pleasure. The Councilman’s dedication to his constituents and to the Metro Richmond region is self-evident, as is his commitment to improving lives, connecting people to resources, and community development.
I also thank Congressman Donald McEachin, Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin, and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg for joining us to share inspiring words about the importance of community, collaboration, and the power of presence.
We had an incredible team of volunteers, who ensured our event was a success. I especially thank June Laffey, Chief of Staff, for her enthusiastic organization of the event and our summer intern, Jannat Amir, for her skilled planning and communications.
Raise Your Hand 4 Education Symposium
This Saturday, September 24, I will be participating in the Raise Your Hand 4 Education symposium. Along with Delegate Shelly Simonds, I will discuss recent education policies impacting Virginia’s public education. With increasing efforts to destabilize the public education system in Virginia through culture wars, targeted attacks on curricula and learning resources, policing of teachers, and forced outing of LGBTQ students, this discussion could not come at a more critical time. Registration details are available here.
Banned Books Week
This week is Banned Books Week, and this year’s theme is "Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us." For the past forty years, Banned Books Week has served as an opportunity to amplify the regressive and harmful nature of censorship while simultaneously highlighting the power of literary art to connect, challenge, and inspire. In 2021 alone, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 1,597 individual book challenges or removals, with a majority of targeted books either authored by or focused on the experiences of Black, Brown, Asian, or LGBTQIA+ persons. A comprehensive list of banned and challenged books compiled by the American Library Association can be found here.
For this week’s “Banned Book” selection, I’ve chosen a text that means a lot to me personally: Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Published in 2003, the novel examines an Afghan-American’s immigrant experiences in California and his memories of a childhood in Afghanistan, prior to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.
The Kite Runner has personal significance for me because of the opportunities it provided me in the classroom. I’ve taught this novel several times to college students new to the concepts of literary analysis. Through the novel, we were able to examine the narrator’s perspectives, the themes of familial responsibility, class structures, the father/son conflict, archetypes of good and evil, and the historical/cultural contexts of the narrative.
I have one memory of teaching this novel that has long stayed with me: Well over a decade ago, one student in my freshman English class refused to do any of the reading assignments, or any other work for that matter. He never participated in class discussions and was visibly unhappy. When the time came to read the novel, I was afraid I would truly lose him from the class. The first morning as we started class discussions about Hosseini’s novel, I was amazed to find a transformed student. Not only had he read the assigned chapters, but he could not wait to talk about them, to ask questions about words and concepts foreign to him, and to share his own insights. He was fully invested in the plot and wanted to learn more. He was intrigued by Hosseini’s loving descriptions of Afghan cuisine and wanted to sample the food himself; “I can imagine the smell and taste of those kebabs,” he said. One day after class, he quietly told me that he had never read a novel before in his life and that he was struggling to explain why he felt so inexplicably connected to this narrative about a people and a land so far from his own experiences. This is the power of literary art.
The Kite Runner lands frequently on books censored or banned in American high schools. Recently, the Brevard Moms for Liberty placed the novel on their target list. This is ironic because in Afghanistan, the Taliban—in their own version of religious zealotry—have also placed the novel on their banned books list.
A reminder that September is Library Card Sign-up Month. I encourage community members who do not have a library card to visit one of our local library branches and sign up: Powhatan County Public Library, Richmond Public Library, and Chesterfield County Public Library.
Senate Page Program: Applications are Open
Applications for the Senate Page Program are due in less than a month. The Senate Page Program is a remarkable educational experience for young Virginians who are interested in being a part of the annual General Assembly, learning about policy making, and engaging directly in state government processes. It is a tradition that has been in place for over 150 years.
Selected pages perform administrative duties, participate in team building, and help with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly. Pages are an integral part of the Capitol during the convening of the General Assembly. Pages live in Richmond throughout the duration of the General Assembly, visiting home on the weekends. The well-structured program provides time for Pages to keep up with schoolwork while also engaging in the direct experiences of government and policy making. More information about the program is available at the Senate Page Program.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2023 Senate Page Program, and the application process remains open until 5:00 pm, October 17. Applicants must be residents of the Commonwealth and either 13 or 14 years old on January 11, the first day of the 2023 session. The application is available here.
Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind
On Tuesday, I visited the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB), located in Staunton, Virginia. I’m honored to serve as a legislative member of VSDB’s Board of Visitors, along with Senator John Bell and Delegate Sally Hudson.
VSDB is unique in its history as a public boarding school in Virginia and has both a national and international reputation. Founded in 1839, it was the first school in the United States to serve both deaf and blind students, and it is the second oldest school for the deaf. As it approaches its 200th birthday, the Main Hall is undergoing a historic renovation and will showcase the remarkable history of the school, the many alumni whose lives have been impacted by the education provided, and the opportunities that it continues to deliver to its students. VSDB was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1838. More information about VSDB is located here.
Community Engagement Highlights
On Friday, I connected with members of the Virginia Bankers Association at their Richmond regional meeting to hear about the priorities for the 2023 legislative session. Later that afternoon, I attended the Virginia Assisted Living Association regional roundtable and listened to the concerns and issues facing stakeholders in the assisted living community.
On Monday, as a member of the Virginia Housing Commission Eviction Diversion Workgroup, I joined my colleagues at the John Marshall Court House to observe court operations, learn more about judicial processes related to evictions, and hear directly from attorneys and staff working on these cases.
On Monday, my Legislative Assistant, Charles Turner, represented the office at the annual Chesterfield Farm Bureau meeting. The Chesterfield Farm Bureau is a member of the larger Virginia Farm Bureau. Our Farm Bureaus are indispensable advocates and resources for Virginia’s farmers. Agriculture remains Virginia's largest private industry, has an economic impact of $70 billion annually, and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.
Tuesday evening, I joined a legislative town hall hosted by the National Coalition of Public Safety Officers. NCPSO serves correctional officers and other Department of Corrections staff throughout Virginia, advocating for greater pay, safer working conditions, and a role in the decision-making process. These public safety officers shared the challenges they face, and the dedication and commitment they bring to their every shift. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about their direct experiences.
Wednesday evening, I met with advocates from Compassion & Choices, an organization dedicated to providing a greater scope of end-of-life options for terminally ill patients, including medical assistance in dying. I introduced the Death with Dignity Act during the 2022 General Assembly session and continue to support the work that these advocates do to increase palliative care in Virginia.
Early Voting Starts Tomorrow
Election Day is November 8, and Virginians can vote in-person beginning tomorrow, September 23. After Virginia Senate and House Democrats led efforts to expand voting access in recent General Assembly sessions, including no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration, Virginians also now have the ability to vote early, in-person, 45 days before Election Day. Here are early in-person voting locations for Senate District 10:
To check voter registration status, request an absentee ballot to vote by mail, and learn more information about upcoming elections, visit the Virginia Department of Elections website.
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah
This Sunday evening marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest holidays within the Judaic faith. Our office wishes everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah across the Commonwealth a joyous new year. Shanah tovah um’tukah!
Connecting With My Office
My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: