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Lynchburg judge throws out lawsuit that threatened Virginia's transgender students' protections
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Lynchburg judge throws out lawsuit that threatened Virginia's transgender students' protections

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A faith-based lawsuit seeking to block increased protections for transgender students in Virginia public schools classrooms beginning this fall lacked standing, a Lynchburg Circuit Court judge ruled this week.

In March, at the direction of General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Education created model policies that are inclusive of transgender and nonbinary students. All Virginia school districts by the start of school must adopt policies that are either consistent with or more comprehensive than the VDOE’s model policies, according to state code.

The model policies include allowing students to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity as well as allowing students to use pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Christian Action Network, a faith-based organization, and two families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools filed a motion in March with the Circuit Court of Lynchburg requesting the VDOE guidelines be postponed.

The lawsuit eventually merged with one filed in Richmond by the Family Foundation, Founding Freedoms Law Center, and a family whose children attend public schools in Hanover County.

The lawsuits said the model policies violated First Amendment rights of free speech and religion of its supports and others.

City of Lynchburg Judge J. Frederick Watson, who dismissed the case on Tuesday, wrote in the opinion “because the model policies are directed only to school boards, they cannot affect or aggrieve anyone other than the school boards.” The groups in the lawsuit failed to demonstrate how the model policies “aggrieved” them, Watson wrote.

“While the court’s decision is a disappointing development, TFF [The Family Foundation] and FFLC [Founding Freedoms Law Center] are continuing to help school boards everywhere reject this terrible “guidance,” Founding Freedoms Law Center said in an online statement.

Equality Virginia, the ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 partners and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” Vee Lamneck, Equality Virginia’s executive director, said in a statement. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination, and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Lynchburg’s ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June in which the court declined to hear a request from the Gloucester County School board regarding transgender students using their bathroom of choice. The School Board requested the Supreme Court review a lower court ruling that overturned its policy prohibiting trans students from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, which Gavin Grimm first challenged in 2015.

“The court [Lynchburg] has affirmed yet again that transgender students deserve dignity and respect,” Eden Heilman, legal director at the ACLU of Virginia, said in a statement. “Discrimination has no place in Virginia schools.”

jnocera@timesdispatch.com Twitter: @jessmnocera

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