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Students hold trans rights and LGBTQ Pride flag signs at a rally in 2023 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Students are getting organized in response to a lawsuit challenging Fairfax County Public Schools for its LGBTQ-inclusive policies.

The Pride Liberation Project, a student-run group that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights in Virginia, will host a rally “against anti-trans hate” outside Luther Jackson Middle School in Merrifield at 6 p.m. today (Thursday). The demonstration will precede the Fairfax County School Board’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

“I’m really hoping that Fairfax County and our school board will stop this attempt to hurt and degrade my fellow students,” Laura Troung, a senior at Falls Church High School, said. “LGBTQIA+ students are already disproportionately facing the youth mental health crisis in addition to bullying and harassment at schools and this is just adding salt into the wound.”

Represented by America First Legal, a right-wing legal group led by former Donald Trump advisor Stephen Miller, an unnamed high school student sued the school board on March 4 over its policies dictating that students be treated in accordance with their gender identity.

In her complaint, the student says being “compelled” to address classmates by the name and pronoun that matches their gender identity violates her religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic. She also argues that the policies discriminate on the basis of sex because of her discomfort with using the same bathroom as transgender girls.

Students with the Pride Liberation Project, however, describe FCPS’ regulation 2603 as critical to creating a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Transgender youth whose peers affirmed their identities, including by using their correct names and pronouns, reported significant reductions in symptoms of severe depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in a 2018 study conducted by University of Texas at Austin researchers.

In contrast, reported school-based hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people have soared since 2015, particularly in states with laws that restrict the rights of transgender students or prohibit education on gender and sexuality, according to the Washington Post.

The Virginia Department of Education’s model policies directing schools to treat students based on their “biological sex” spurred protests and school walkouts across the state in September 2022, including ones organized by the Pride Liberation Project.

Students also rallied outside Luther Jackson Middle School last year after FCPS pledged not to adopt the state policies.

“The fact that so many of my friends and teachers respect my pronouns and my name is life-saving to me,” Moth DiNizzo, a McLean High School junior, said. “I know that they care about me and trust my own self-perception. It’s wonderful and I want everyone to experience that same joy of being known and trusted.”

The planned rally comes shortly after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors designated March 31 as Transgender Visibility Day. The International Transgender Day for Visibility was created in 2009 to celebrate the lives and achievements of the transgender community.

At its meeting on Tuesday (March 19), the board approved the proclamation 9-0 with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the board’s only Republican member, away from the table.

Supervisors said the designation is an important acknowledgement of the county’s diversity and their commitment as elected officials to support all residents.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can not just to protect [the LGBTQ+ community], but to use our voices to stand up and support them and to make sure that the rest of our community sees that that’s what their government is doing,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Regardless of what’s happening in Richmond, we will always stand up and fight to protect every single person in this county.”

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Justice High School students walked out on Monday in support of Palestinians (courtesy Justice High School Muslim Student Association)

Students at schools across Fairfax County have or are planning to walk out this week in a show of solidarity with Palestinians suffering in the latest war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip.

Dubbed a “Humanitarian Walkout Week,” the demonstrations began last Friday (Oct. 20) at Annandale High School and continued on Monday (Oct. 23) at Justice High School in Lake Barcroft. Organizers at Oakton High School reported that at least 200 students participated in their walkout yesterday (Tuesday).

Additional walkouts are expected at Edison and Mount Vernon high schools today, Woodson and Falls Church high schools tomorrow (Thursday), and McLean and Lake Braddock high schools on Friday (Oct. 27).

The walkouts are being organized by each school’s Muslim Student Association, though not all participants are members of those clubs.

In a press release, the students said they want an end to the bombing that Israel has unleashed on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed an estimated 1,400 people and took over 200 people hostage, including the relatives of a Fairfax County native.

They also called for an end to Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza and an end to its occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

“We’ve been fighting with this for decades, and we’re scared into silence every time, but this time, we’re not going to be silent,” a student at the Justice High School rally said. “We will continue to speak up against the genocide and the ethnic cleansing that’s currently happening in Palestine. We will not stop until Palestine is free.”

Another student encouraged other attendees to “come together to come together to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Palestine.”

“It is about recognizing that every life is precious and that peace is not a dream, but an achievable reality,” she said.

Supported by funding and supplies from the U.S., the Israeli military has unleashed hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack. More than 5,000 people have been killed, the Gaza Ministry of Health has said, and over 1.4 million people have fled their homes, according to news reports.

The U.S. government has expressed continued support for Israel, its longtime ally, and resisted calls for it to back a ceasefire, including from the United Nations, some Congressional representatives and staffers, and Jewish activists.

U.S. officials have been involved in Israel’s hostage negotiations with Hamas, and in a visit to Tel Aviv last week, President Joe Biden urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, which was cut off from food, water, electricity, medical supplies and other necessities. A handful of trucks with aid were permitted this past weekend for the first time since Israel’s siege began, though the U.N. agency working with Palestinian refugees says the situation remains dire, particularly with fuel running out.

A poll released last week found that a majority of U.S. voters agree the government should call for a ceasefire and help deescalate the violence in Gaza.

“The red stripes of the American flag are painted in the blood of the countries we’ve stepped on to get to this point and we refuse to inherit a world where hate and injustice is fueled by greed,” Holly Raheb, a sophomore at McLean High School, said.

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The rent is getting too high, residents of a committed affordable housing complex near Huntley Meadows Park say.

The owner of Lafayette Apartments (7136 Groveton Gardens Road) in Groveton increased rents starting on June 1, even though living conditions have become “unsafe” and “hazardous” in recent years, according to Tenant and Workers United (TWU), a local grassroots organization that supports advocacy efforts by low-income communities of color.

In a protest organized by TWU, residents gathered at the apartment complex’s playground on Sept. 7 to urge Jonathan Rose Companies to stop raising their rents and address maintenance issues.

“These sudden, predatory rent increases for apartments with significant health and safety issues are shocking,” TWU community organizer Marianela Funes said. “It’s this type of behavior that forces our neighbors out of their homes and displaces entire communities.”

Vartania Olivia says she and other residents started organizing with TWU about three months ago after they were informed in May that their rents would be increased.

According to TWU, rents were increased by the maximum increment allowed for a property eligible to receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The organization says residents reported “widespread inconsistency” in the amount of the increases and the wording of the notices they received.

A Lafayette Apartments resident for over 11 years, Yesenia Climato says she got a letter stating that her rent would go up by $200 a month on June 1. However, if she didn’t agree to the new rate by signing the letter, the rent would automatically increase even more by $321.

“This increase is too high,” Climato said. “What we want is a stop in the rent increase. We are a low-income community and this is too much for us.”

Rose Community Management, which manages the Lafayette Apartments, confirmed that it increased rents by 10% on average, which it says is “significantly lower than what is allowed by law” for a designated affordable housing community.

The increases came after the company voluntarily froze rents for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokesperson said. With the neighborhood’s area median income rising 18% over that time, the building could legally raise rents by as much as 17%, according to Rose Community Management.

“It is now necessary to raise rents at the Lafayette Apartments to keep pace with inflation and rising property payroll and operating costs to ensure the property remains in good working order,” the Rose Community Management spokesperson said in a statement. “…We look forward to continuing to serve residents in this affordable apartment community.”

Jonathan Rose says it has completed over $9 million in repairs and maintenance since buying the property, including roof replacements, balcony and chimney updates, modernization of the water heaters, and improvements to the unit floors, countertops and kitchen appliances.

However, residents say conditions have deteriorated since Jonathan Rose acquired the 340-unit property in May 2016.

Issues have included neglected maintenance requests, rodent infestations, unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, and unusable common areas, according to TWU.

“This property has been in such bad condition. They never pay attention to our maintenance requests,” Olivia said. “The pool has been closed for over 4 years. We have pest [infestations].”

The Lafayette Apartments swimming pool reopened on Aug. 18 after being closed for several years due to the pandemic and repairs, according to the property manager.

In light of the rent increases, some residents fear the owner is preparing to sell the apartments, though TWU didn’t elaborate on the basis for that speculation. Jonathan Rose didn’t comment on whether there are any plans to put the property on the market.

“That leaves the future of the community in limbo,” TWU said. “This community is facing exorbitant increases in rent coupled with a lack of maintenance repairs and living conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy. The management company must do better.”

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Fairfax County Public Schools has officially announced that it will not implement the Virginia Department of Education’s recently finalized model policies regarding transgender and nonbinary students.

Yesterday (Tuesday), FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid released a statement confirming that FCPS won’t adopt the new guidelines after a “detailed legal review” found that its current policies are “consistent” with state and federal law.

The statement notes that gender-expansive and transgender students will continue to be referred to by their chosen names and pronouns, given access to school programming and facilities based on their gender identity, and “have their privacy respected,” regardless of their gender identity or legal sex.

“Let me be clear that FCPS remains committed to fostering a safe, supportive, welcoming, and inclusive school environment for all students and staff, including our transgender and gender expansive students and staff,” Reid wrote. “We believe that supporting our students and working with parents and caregivers are not mutually exclusive; we already do both and will continue to do so. We know that students can only learn effectively when they feel safe and supported.”

The policies that FCPS plans to keep in place directly oppose Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s guidance, which has two main requirements:

  • Students must participate in school activities and use school facilities according to their sex legally assigned at birth rather than gender identity
  • Parents must provide written consent if a student wants to go by a name and/or pronouns that differ from what appears on the student’s official records

Youngkin has characterized the policies as keeping parents involved “in conversations about their child’s education, upbringing, and care.”

Waves of backlash from LGBTQIA+ advocates have rippled across the state since late 2022, when Youngkin first announced his proposed changes to former governor Ralph Northam’s previous policies.

FCPS Pride, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization for employees and other adults affiliated with FCPS, played a leading role in advocating for FCPS to take a firm stance against Youngkin’s policies and in favor of transgender and gender-expansive student rights.

FCPS Pride co-chair Robert Rigley Jr. says the state guidelines — which he nicknames the “Don’t Be Trans” policy — make transgender and non-binary students feel unwelcome in Virginia schools and “remove civil and human rights.”

“[The policy] makes it so that some adults have veto power over someone’s gender identity, which from a queer person’s point of view is absurd,” Rigley Jr. said. “…It steals agency in particular from transgender children. It says that you are not in control of your identity at a very basic level, and it turns families and schools against one another, battling over children who are among the most vulnerable children in this state.”

“It traumatizes a whole generation of queer kids in Virginia,” he continued.

FCPS Pride and nine other community organizations held a rally at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) in Merrifield. Originally intended as a protest for FCPS to take a clear stance against Youngkin’s policies, the rally transformed into a celebration after the release of Reid’s statement. Read More

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Maximus call center workers organized under the Communications Workers of America protest outside the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in D.C. (courtesy CWA)

A union representing Maximus call center workers filed unfair labor practices charges against the Tysons-headquartered contractor this week.

In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday and Wednesday (May 23 and 24), the Communications Workers of America alleges that the government services company, which operates call centers for Medicaid and Medicare, has retaliated against employees and illegally tried to discourage them from unionizing.

The CWA says it filed the complaints because Maximus is laying off more than 700 call center workers this month who handle customer service for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

At a protest organized by Call Center Workers United, which is part of the CWA, a worker who handled calls for the CDC for three years said yesterday (Thursday) that he was laid off two days before Mother’s Day despite having a “great performance record with no discipline.”

“I believe the real reason I was laid off was in retaliation for speaking out about Maximus’ working conditions, and to scare my co-workers from supporting a union. But we have a right to speak out and tell the truth, and to organize to improve our working conditions,” Daija Arrington said at the rally in D.C. outside the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates both CMS and the CDC.

According to the charge sheet, Maximus violated federal labor laws in April and May by retaliating against employees involved in union activities by laying them off, threatening them with layoffs or worksite closures and offering severance agreements with conditions limiting their ability to talk about their experiences with the company.

The CWA also alleges that Maximus made “implied promises of benefits” to employees and forced them to attend a meeting to discourage them from unionizing.

Though the charge is tied to a call center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which has served as an organizing base for the union, the recent layoffs have affected employees across the company’s 10 centers, most of which are in the South, according to the CWA.

Another 143 workers at the Hattiesburg call center were reportedly laid off in January.

When contacted for comment by FFXnow, Maximus said that “the allegations were just made available to us,” but it is “confident that the company complied with all applicable labor requirements.”

“Given the lack of specific detail, including dates of alleged occurrence and names of workers, we are unable to respond directly to the allegations,” Maximus said in a statement. “We pride ourselves in complying with applicable labor laws across all our operations and will cooperate fully with any request from the National Labor Relations Board.” Read More

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D.C. area BNP supporters protest against Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina outside the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons (via hafizkhandcusa/Facebook)

Tysons Blvd was shut down in front of the Ritz-Carlton this afternoon by demonstrators protesting a visit by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Police closed the road between Galleria Drive and Park Run Drive starting around 3:50 p.m., according to a Fairfax Alert.

“A large group has gathered for a demonstration,” the Fairfax County Police Department said. “Officers are in the area to ensure public safety. Please use an alternate route.”

According to a flyer posted to Facebook, the D.C., Virginia and Maryland chapters of the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) organized the demonstration to protest Hasina’s arrival on Saturday (April 29) for a week-long visit to D.C.

The group also held a protest yesterday (Monday) outside the World Bank in D.C.

A video of the protest shows people chanting and holding posters calling for democracy and free elections in Bangladesh.

The daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who helped found Bangladesh when it separated from Pakistan in 1971, Hasina has become the country’s longest-serving prime minister since assuming the position in 2009.

Her government has been accused of suppressing political opponents with election rigging, torture, arbitrary arrests and violent crackdowns on protestors. The BNP, an opposition party to Hasina’s ruling Awami League, has been mobilizing in recent months both within Bangladesh and globally to protest rising fuel prices and arrests of its leaders.

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Local union members protested in front of the Kingstowne Safeway yesterday (Wednesday) in opposition to the proposed merger between grocery store conglomerates Kroger and Albertsons.

About 30 members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 marched near the front door of the Safeway at 5980 Kingstowne Towne Center. The local protest was part of a nationwide day action from a coalition of organizations hoping to stop Albertsons, which owns Safeway, from merging with Kroger, which owns Harris Teeter.

A protest was also held at a Safeway (1100 4th Street SW) in D.C.

“[The merger is] not only going to affect the stores and not only the workers at those stores and not only the customers of those stores, but this merger has the potential to impact everyone who shops for groceries in America,” UFCW Local 400 spokesperson Jonathan Williams told FFXnow. “It’s going to completely shift the grocery retail landscape and we think for the worse.”

The protest was to draw attention to the potential downsides of the merger, ask the public to pressure the Federal Trade Commission to not approve it, and to distribute free, reusable grocery bags.

The merger could mean increased food costs, fewer options, and lower sale prices for farmers, critics say.

The $25 billion agreement to merge the country’s two largest grocery store chains was first announced last October. The timeline for when the deal will be approved — or rejected — is not immediately clear, but it was reported earlier this year that it could be a long process.

UFCW Local 400 represents 21,000 food workers across the Mid-Atlantic region. While Williams didn’t know the exact number of Safeway and Harris Teeter workers represented, both stores have numerous locations in Fairfax County.

If the merger goes through, it could lead to closures and increased unemployment regionally, according to Williams.

“In Northern Virginia…if you look at a map of Safeway stores and Kroger-owned Harris Teeter, they are often in close proximity to one another,” he said. “As a result of antitrust regulations as well as efficiency, it’s unlikely for a merged company to operate both stores. What sense does it make to have a grocery store across the street from your other grocery store? So, we were worried about store closures.”

FFXnow has reached out to both Safeway and Harris Teeter representatives for comments on the protests and the merger, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Despite nearly $25 billion being on the line, Williams expressed some hope that the merger could be stopped. He saw the Senate grill grocery store leadership late last year and believes there’s some momentum for the FTC to reject the deal.

“Unlike in years past, where these mergers are something of a formality on the Hill…there is a lof skepticism that this deal will be approved,” he said. “We are certainly more hopeful than we have been in years past.”

Williams and the rest of UFCW Local 400 hope protests like the one in front of the Kingstowne Safeway will encourage the public to advocate against the merger to the FTC and local lawmakers.

“We’re not talking about Taylor Swift tickets and Ticketmaster here. We’re talking about bread, butter and milk,” said Williams. “And we can’t allow any kind of monopoly in the food system.”

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As a steady drizzle of rain provided an appropriately somber atmosphere, the parents of Timothy McCree Johnson and their supporters gathered in front of the Fairfax County Government Center on Friday (March 3) to call for justice after his recent death in a police shooting outside Tysons Corner Center.

With support from the Fairfax County NAACP, top among the family’s demands are the continued call for an independent investigation of the shooting and the prompt release of body-worn camera footage captured by the two police officers who fired their guns.

The Fairfax County Police Department maintains that the footage will be made public within 30 days of the shooting, in accordance with its information release policy, but Johnson’s mother, Melissa Johnson, questioned why she and her family needs to wait that long to see what happened to her son.

“The Johnson family needs to see the unedited footage of the body-worn cameras, and they need to see it now,” said Carl Crews, an attorney for the family. “They need to know what the officer perceived that he thought was a threat to his life from Timothy, that was running away from him. The longer it takes for us, for the Johnson family to see the footage, the more time we will have to simply speculate as to what happened.”

A 37-year-old D.C. resident, Johnson was shot once in the chest around 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 22 by officers who pursued him after he was allegedly seen trying to shoplift a pair of sunglasses from Nordstorm.

The FCPD identified the officers involved as Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a 7-year veteran of the department, and Police Officer First Class James Sadler, an 8-year veteran, on March 4 — exactly 10 days after the shooting, as required by its policy.

Shifflett and Sadler were assigned to the Tysons Urban Team, a 12-officer unit based in Tysons Corner Center that was introduced in 2013. They both have certificates of valor from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which honored Shifflett in 2020 and Sadler in 2018.

They’re currently on restricted duty status as criminal and administrative investigations into Johnson’s shooting continue.

The identification of the officers hasn’t changed the Johnson family’s desire to see the body camera video or have the shooting investigated by an entity outside the police department, Crews told FFXnow.

The FCPD announced on Friday that the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) will examine officer-involved shootings since 2021, but the review will focus on overall trends, rather than specific incidents.

“I don’t have a comment about that,” Melissa Johnson said when asked about the PERF review. “Let the police take care of what they need to do to earn public trust or to police themselves.” Read More

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Residents at Engleside Mobile Home Park (courtesy Tenants and Workers United)

Residents of a mobile home community off Route 1 held a rally Tuesday (Nov. 15) to voice concerns that new ownership could push out current residents.

At a gathering with representatives of community organizers Tenants and Workers United, residents from Engleside Mobile Home Park and Ray’s Mobile Home Colony shared concerns that a recent purchase of the property could lead to rent hikes and evictions.

Marianela Reynado explained that the Engleside property was sold to $24.2 million to Pacific Current Partners despite efforts by residents and a nonprofit to raise funds to purchase the property and keep it affordable.

The sale was finalized Tuesday, according to TWU. Pacific Current Partners could not be reached for comment.

Residents organized in 2020 to oppose a plan that added density to the site. The building owners at the time said there were no plans to redevelop the lot in the near future. The recent sale, however, has raised doubts about those assurances.

According to TWU, residents were notified this September that the owners at the time, Ahora Company LC and Rapido Company LC, had gotten offer from Pacific Current Partners and intended to sell the mobile home parks just two months later.

“I’ve lived in this community for 14 years,” Saul Hernandez said. “It’s a good space, a place for our children. It’s a safe place, a calm place, and knowing that this is a place where there could be an increase in our rents… it’s a place we don’t want that to happen.”

Larisa Zehr, an attorney from Legal Aid Justice Center, told attendees at the rally that there are only eight mobile home parks in Fairfax County, meaning there are increasingly few places in the area available to mobile homeowners.

“Mobile home parks fill an important gap in available affordable housing,” Zehr said. “They’re relatively affordable without subsidy and an asset, as residents have said today, which is very different than an apartment complex where the rent goes to a landlord and the tenant has nothing.”

Another one of the county’s mobile housing communities, Harmony Place in Hybla Valley, was sold to a developer in December, even though residents offered $1.5 million more to take ownership, according to DCist.

A manufactured housing task force created by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last year delivered a report in September with recommendations for how to preserve the county’s 1,750 “mobile” housing units and ensure they remain affordable.

The county has adopted the term manufactured homes, rather than mobile homes, which it says is misleading.

“Unlike traditional homeownership in which the property and the home is owned by a single entity, manufactured homes are typically owned by the occupant who rents the land from a separate entity,” Fairfax County Housing and Community Development said. “In most cases, the homes are not mobile.”

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Across Fairfax County and Virginia, thousands of students walked out today (Tuesday) in protest of proposed state policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Students from more than 90 schools, including nearly 30 in Fairfax County, took a stand against policies introduced earlier this month by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin regulating everything from which bathroom a student can use to the definition of “the phrase ‘transgender student.'”

The walkout protests were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization that advocates for the LQBTQ+ community in schools. The group aims to persuade the governor to revoke the draft policies, which are now open for public comment through Oct. 26.

Since the policies were announced more than a week ago, local school districts, board members, and elected officials have questioned and overwhelmingly come out against policies that would severely curtail the rights of and support that school districts can give transgender students.

Fairfax County Public Schools said last week that it was “reviewing” the proposed policies and reiterated a commitment to supporting LGBTQ students.

Today, though, it was students’ turn to make their voices heard.

At West Potomac High School in Belle Haven, an estimated 1,000 students walked out at 10 a.m. in protest. They filed into bleachers on the football field, while speakers shared their experiences and why they personally would be affected by the new policies.

“As a trans [person], I have been discriminated against for my gender identity and was told it was wrong. That I was wrong,” said a West Potomac High School senior. “These policies are just a new case of this happening.”

“I can’t be a student if I don’t know what name my teacher is going to call me,” said another student.

Mara Surovell, one of the lead organizers for the West Potomac High School walkout, hopes it will encourage Youngkin to not implement the policies or, at the very least, allow school districts the authority to continue to implement their own guidance.

“Most of my friends are transgender and my sister is also transgender. So it affects all people I love. And I don’t want any of my friends to feel like school is an unsafe place,” Surovell told FFXnow. “I don’t want to see…their mental health plummet because of these policies, and I really just want them to feel safe and loved, and I don’t think that’ll happen if these policies get approved.”

Students involved in walkouts at South Lakes High School in Reston and Marshall High School in Idylwood shared similar thoughts.

Rishi Chandra, a South Lakes junior, said that he has personally seen how well trans and nonbinary students can do in school when they feel safe, but if the new policies get approved, they will “harm queer students.” Read More

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