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Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant
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804-698-7512
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PO Box 70849
Henrico, VA 23255

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Critical Thinking: Transgender School Policy

The Education and Health Public Health subcommittee held a meeting the first Friday of session. In the chaos of the first week, the meeting was not scheduled until the evening before, and I was not able to see which bills were on the docket until the morning of the meeting. When I looked through the bills on the docket, I noticed a piece of legislation that I had received many emails from my constituents about.


The bill is SB161 “Public elementary and secondary schools; treatment of transgender students, policies.” I read the bill and realized that I also received several emails overnight from constituents concerned specifically about the issue of school sports contained in the bill. I had my team pull some research before I went into the committee meeting, specifically about how the school systems handle the issue of transgender students and school sports teams.


Several articles were found citing complaints from high school girls who claimed their Title IX protections had been violated. Title IX is the federal protection for women to have same sex sports in parity to men’s sports teams. The complaint was under investigation by OCR, the Office of Civil Rights. It is a credible concern to me.


I agree with the general intent of the bill. I know the Board of Education already has non-discrimination policies that should apply, but I can see the value of emphasizing those guidelines for transgender students. I know this is an issue that all kids are dealing with in our schools. It’s a learning opportunity. I also know that statistics show that transgender youth are at a higher risk of being victims of violence and attempted suicide.


I want to protect all children. I want all children to be able to grow up with self-esteem, confident in who they are, and able to tackle life with vigor and happiness. We should create a school environment where they can prosper.


After listening to public testimony and looking at each aspect of the bill, I suggested an amendment to strike the language from the bill pertaining to sports teams, noting that the General Assembly does not pass laws on issues that are pending in litigation or under investigation. Laws are written and legislated, but also subject to constitutional scrutiny by the courts. Legislating issues that are being investigated or litigated creates law that may conflict. This puts Virginia at risk for additional, unnecessary, and expensive litigation, which is funded by taxpayers. It’s bad policy. My amendment was defeated and the bill went on to committee without my vote.


During the process of public debate on this bill, the High School Athletic Association spoke about existing regulations on sports teams and suggested that as a result they had resolved the issue. After leaving the committee meeting and over the weekend I decided to look into this because I wasn’t sure I really understood all of the variables. In medicine, it’s better to challenge what you know and find evidence that supports your understanding or, if not, learn better. I legislate the same way. I always make sure I have enough understanding of an issue to make an informed decision.


So, I did some more research. I found out that the Olympic Committee has not yet issued guidance on how to balance inclusion and also prevent any unfair advantages. They have even changed their policy a few times. They actually measure testosterone levels of women and continue to change what those measurements should be to be able to compete. Scientists are in conflict about where the threshold should be. The high school athletics association says one year after starting hormones a student can compete on the same sex team. As I said, that issue is currently being challenged.


This issue remains unclear and undecided by science and the courts.


This is an example of a bill that has an intent that I agree with, but the specifics of the bill could actually be detrimental if legislated. It puts Virginia at risk for expensive, drawn out, and conflicted litigation. I think we need to have a conversation and bring people to the table. We need to focus on improving and increasing tolerance and safety for our students by working to create consensus, instead of by legislative mandate.