In the face of anti-LGBTQ+ policies being implemented in schools across the country, some parents are speaking out and it’s glorious to watch. Especially when it's done like this.
A video of Cody Conner, a Virginia Beach dad, is going viral on social media after he spoke at a school board meeting on October 10. The father of three gave an impassioned speech about the state’s “discriminatory policies” and called out anyone who stands in favor of them.
“You are never going to find a right way to do the wrong thing and Governor Youngkin’s policies are wrong,” he began his speech.
Conner is referring to the Virginia governor’s “model policies” for public schools that require students to use the bathroom and sports team that matches their assigned sex. It also requires written instruction from parents for a student to use names or gender pronouns that differ from the official record, meaning that teacher can deadname students—refer to them by their prior name—if paperwork isn’t filled out by the parents and it requires the school to inform parents if a student is questioning their identity, according to 13 News Now. These policies will be especially detrimental to LGBTQ+ students who come from conservative homes.
Conner started speaking out at school board meetings (he’ll be speaking for the 17th time on November 15) because he moved his family to Virginia Beach right before Youngkin’s policies passed and he worries about the future of his 13-year-old trans daughter who is now in the 8th grade. The family moved from rural Virginia to Virginia Beach so that their kid, who came out as trans a year ago, would be in a school system that would be supportive, but that all changed because of Youngkin.
“I think at that point, I just wasn’t going to run,” he tells PRIDE. “I couldn’t anymore.”
The 42-year-old father said that he’s a quiet person and might not have made the choice to speak up if not for his kids. “I just knew I couldn’t standby and do nothing, just let it happen and hope everything worked out ok and I also wanted to make sure my kid knew that I would stand up for them,” Conner explains as he begins to tear up. “My big job as a parent is not to tell my children who they are, it’s not to make the decisions for them, it’s not to live their life or decide what their life is going to be, but to show them the best way I know how to walk through this world.”
Watching a father stick up for his trans kid and the queer community and rail against conservatives is a cathartic experience and likely why the video has gone viral online.
In his speech that already has nearly 90,000 likes on TikTok, Conner pointed out that the fact that the Proud Boys and the “parental rights” group Moms for Liberty—both considered hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center—support these discriminatory and draconian policies is further proof that the policies are wrong.
“Never in history have the good guys been the segregationist group pushing to legislate identity,” he said. “Never in history have the good guys been closely connected with and supported by hate groups like the Proud Boys. And the good guys don’t put Hitler quotes for inspiration on the front of their newsletters. News flash: they're the bad guys. They're the bad guys supporting bad policy. And if you support the same bad policy, guess what? You’re one of the bad guys too.”
After nearly a year of delays, Youngkin's policies are finally being implemented in the Virginia Beach school system, with a few minor alterations, which is why Conner has no plans to stop speaking out. He finished his dynamic speech by reminding the school board members to “be the good guys while you still can.”
Conner explains to PRIDE that for him speaking at school board meetings is about more than just trying to sway board members. “It was just about a lot more than just trying to change the minds of those 11 people up there,” he says. “It was about trying to bolster the hearts of the thousands and thousands of people out there that those 11 people’s decisions are threatening.”
With anti-LGBTQ+ laws sweeping the country it’s easy to become disillusioned, but watching Conner call out bigotry and homophobia is the kind of catharsis the queer community needs right now. But speaking truth to power isn’t the only way Conner is trying to change the world for the LGBTQ+ community. He’s also an organizer with the trans rights nonprofit the Calos Coalition. When speaking with PRIDE Conner was gearing up to cook a trans-Thanksgiving dinner put on by the group. It’s only the second “trans family dinner” they’ve put on—they plan to do it every month—but they are already expecting 70 guests.
“In a very real way the LGBTQ+ community gets treated by a lot of people as if they’re unwholesome in some way, with zero acknowledgment that so many members of the community have been isolated and ostracized from these presumed wholesome places and traumatized in places like the family dinner table,” he explains. “And I just wanted to take that back, create a safe space to sit down and break bread with people [who are] welcome and wanted.”
This is what allyship looks like. This is what parenting looks like. And this is hopefully what the future looks like — which if Conner gets his way, it will.