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Youngkin administration play to change policy for transgender high school athletes falls short in Charlottesville

A 10-year-old policy in Virginia is staying put.

Since 2014, it has been the rule that transgender athletes in the commonwealth are permitted to play on the sports teams that match their gender identity. However the chief of staff at the Virginia Department of Education, Jeremy Raley, has recently pushed to effectively reverse that.

In language proposed to the Virginia High School League, a private entity based in Charlottesville that facilitates interscholastic sports competition throughout the commonwealth, Raley suggested the policy be changed to: “If a school maintains separate teams in the same sport for boys and girls during the school year, student-athlete participation shall be determined by biological sex and not gender or gender identity.”

Raley proposed the language in September. A Virginia High School League vote on the language was originally scheduled to take place at a Tuesday meeting in Charlottesville.

A week before that meeting, Raley withdrew his proposal.

“As Dr. Raley spoke with stakeholders in the field regarding the VHSL proposal, there was a desire to have more discussion on the issue,” the Virginia Department of Education told The Daily Progress in a statement.

Raley, himself, has declined to explain the withdrawal. The Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons and a spokesman for Gov. Glenn Youngkin both deferred to the Education Department statement.

While the vote was removed from the schedule, the single word “Transgender” was still listed in the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting as a discussion item.

No one spoke when it was brought up.

“I think people had a lot of discussion in their regions, and their groups here, and I think they’ve had the discussion,” the league’s executive director, Billy Haun, told The Daily Progress.

The current policy’s survival was celebrated by transgender advocacy groups such as Equality Virginia. The debate over transgender athlete participation has become a hot topic in Virginia and nationwide, often functioning as a sharp line of contrast between Republicans and Democrats.

“We are grateful to leaders at the VHSL for standing firm in their current policy and not allowing a small, radical cohort — led by Youngkin’s department of education — to force a more restrictive, anti-transgender policy for athletes,” Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman said in a statement to The Daily Progress.

Rahaman said news that the vote was canceled came on the heels of Virginia lawmakers killing two bills in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that would have prevented transgender athletes from participating in sports in the commonwealth on Feb. 1.

“Last Thursday, the Senate Education Subcommittee rejected two anti-trans athlete bans that would have impacted Virginia’s K-12 students,” Rahaman told The Daily Progress. “We’re very grateful that the Virginia High School League showed up to oppose these bills.”

Rahaman said Equality Virginia thanks the Virginia High School League for its support.

“The Virginia High School League has been great partners,” Rahaman said. “They have developed a policy that allows transgender athletes to play, and for that, we’re very grateful for them.”


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