WISE — Almost two weeks after the Wise County School Board approved a set of transgender rights policy changes, a group of area residents and clergy rallied outside the closed schools’ central office to protest the action.
The approximately 120 people, called to the rally by Stand Up Virginia, included Russell and Wise counties Republican officials and the group’s local organizer Jony Baker, a Dickenson County Sheriff’s Office employee and legislative aide to 38th District state Sen. Travis Hackworth.
Social media posts by the group had originally scheduled the rally at 3 p.m. — during the division office’s business hours — but it was rescheduled after business hours.
Baker, who told the gathering that Hackworth supports efforts to strike down the state’s transgender school rights law as an unfunded mandate, attacked the policies and an alternate model policy under the new law.
The Wise County school board, like the Lee County and Norton boards, adopted a package of Virginia School Boards Association-recommended policy changes
to comply with the new Virginia Code sections 22.1-22.3 covering eight areas:
• Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws
• Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students
• Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment
• Maintenance of student records
• Identification of students
• Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information
• Enforcement of sex-based dress codes
• Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities
Pointing to a mass rally in Russell County organized about two weeks ago, Baker called on Wise County residents to do the same to put pressure on the school board.
With one daughter in public school, Baker said the rights law was an attempt to take God out of school.
“I don’t want her going to any school and have her mind corrupted,” Baker said, adding that residents should pressure their local school board members to reverse any adoption of the policies.
Baker compared local opposition to the transgender rights law to demonstrations in support of the Second Amendment and gun ownership.
“We love our guns,” Baker said. “We love our God, we love our Constitution, we love those kids … We can’t discriminate against my little girl and say we’re providing more freedoms for somebody else.”
Several local pastors criticized the Wise County board action, repeating Baker’s call to elect local school board members and state legislators who will repeal the measures and strike down the new law. Father-and-son pastors Owen Powers Jr. and Sr., who oversee separate churches in the county, echoed many of the points of their fellow clergy.
Powers Jr., said county residents “have to stand up against the evil,” adding that the Bible specifies “there’s male and there’s female.”
“My rights are being infringed upon,” Powers Sr. said, accusing the board’s decision of being made on financial grounds. “You’re confusing young, innocent minds.”
Resident Huey Ellis, who has a child and nephews attending a county school, called the policy “an outright abomination.”
“Homosexuality is a special kind of sin,” Ellis said. “If I have to, I will take my children out of school and teach them myself.”
Local pastor Roger Barker called on all churches in the county to come together in opposition to the board’s action.
“Those ungodly people are making those ungodly decisions,” Barker said. “We have to be forceful.”
Jimmy Hobbs, another local Stand Up Virginia organizer, told the group that there will be another rally at the Spirit and Truth Worship Center near Big Stone Gap on Thursday at 7 p.m.