ASHLAND -- The discussion continued last week regarding the issue of transgender students in Hanover County Public Schools, and how current policy -- or lack of -- is addressing the issue.

Speakers on both sides of the issue politely stated their positions in an hour-long public comment period at last Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Hanover County School Board meeting.

Kelly Merrill is a parent of two, one of whom is transgender, students in Hanover schools. “I’m commenting today to commend Hanover County schools for the way you have handled this situation in light of those rules that were mentioned last month at your school board meeting,” she said.

Merrill said she was satisfied with the county’s efforts at inclusion regarding transgender students.

“I have been very pleased with how our situation is going in school so far,” she said.

She also noted support in her community and the importance of a group of parents who are experiencing similar situations.

“Having a transgender child is not something any family expects,” Merrill said. “We have found a community of other families who are committed to loving their children through their gender journeys.”

Merrill said the stakes are high. “Living with these children, it is clear to us that denying their expression is a matter of life and death.”

Merrill said she knows of at least 10 other transgender students in Hanover, three of whom have opted out of public schools.

“I am certain they are not the only ones and certain they are not the first,” Merrill said during a public comment period.

Citizens on both sides of the issue packed the school board meeting room last week to express their opinions on the issue.

She urged school officials to continue a program of education regarding transgender issues and increased efforts to combat misconceptions.

“So, thank you for your support that you have offered and please consider providing more with curriculum and a thoughtful gender affirming policy,” Merrill concluded.

Rhonda Kelly, also the parent of a graduated transgender student in Hanover, also expressed thanks for the county’s policy.

“My son was encouraged to be who he is by everyone at his school and that made such a difference in his life,” Kelly said.

Citizens on both sides of the issue packed the school board meeting room last week to express their opinions on the issue.

Cold Harbor resident and parent Justin Rath repeated concerns he raised at last month’s meeting regarding policy currently being followed.

Rath said he had reached out to multiple state representatives regarding his concerns, and found their responses in agreement with his position.

“I’ve been met with nothing but total agreement,” he said. “Not a single one of them likes this any more than I do.”

Rath said those who oppose the current policy would continue to organize and “fight”.

“We’re working on a solution and we will continue to fight to protect the innocence of these girls from the perversion of being forced to change their clothes in front of a boy,” Rath said.

Whitney Cipriani said some of those girls are uncomfortable with the locker room situation and have spoken up, “but it has landed on deaf ears.”

“They have been told it’s not right to feel the way they feel and if they have a problem they can dress out somewhere else,” Cipriani said. “Do not dismiss dozens of young impressionable girls because you are too scared to speak up for them. They matter. Do better for these girls, not just one child.”

Jeff Brauer of Beaverdam said current policy is akin to accommodating the exception and not the rule.

“I trust that the current policy that requires middle school girls to change clothes in front of a biological male was established in an effort to foster feelings of comfort and well-being in a transgender student,” Brauer said.

“That notion is commendable, but should not bring about policies that provide for one student while taking the same away from other students,” he continued. “A policy that places one student’s feelings above a number of others is an official endorsement of favoritism for the one, while, at the same time, demeaning the others.”

Those expressing the need for a change in policy said they will continue to seek solutions at the local level, and one warned they would not hesitate to “move up the ladder until we get the answers we need.”

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