Rise Up: Leading the Way to Equality


Photo by: Karwaan Kotwal

Senior Tony Marshak’s story of leadership and encouragement in response to anti-LGBTQ+ policies being passed in Virginia public schools.

    Potomac Falls High School senior, Tony Marshak, has been open about his identity, and encouraging others to be as well for years. On Sept. 16, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released its 2022 Model Policies, rolling back accommodations set in place for LGBTQ+ students in Virginia Public Schools. When Marshak first heard the news, he was worried for his rights and determined to do something about it. On Sept. 27, students around Virginia walked out during class in protest of the proposal, and at Potomac Falls, Marshak was the one leading them.

    This bill was put forward by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, and brought into effect by the VDOE in its 2022 Model Policies. This proposal will effectively remove protections for trangender students in Virginia public schools after its 30-day public comment period, which began on Sept. 26. 

    In an article printed by NPR, the VDOE states the basis for this decision is to “keep politics out of the classroom” and “reaffirm the rights of parents.”

    “Transgender students will no longer be able to identify as they are without parent permission, and that can lead to some very unsafe situations for students,” said Marshak. 

    Under these policies, transgender students must only use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. They also cannot participate in athletic or other extracurricular activities that do not align with their sex assigned at birth. The legal name and gender that the school uses for trangender students cannot be changed, even with a written request from their parent or legal guardian. Only a legal document or court order will be accepted for a student to change their name, gender, and pronouns in the school’s records. Even if a student does have the correct paperwork, teachers still do not need to use that student’s preferred pronouns or name if they feel like it would “violate their constitutionally protected rights” according to NPR. 

    Marshak originally did not plan on leading the walkout at Potomac Falls, but with rumors of it happening at other schools, students were anxious to find out the plan, and they went to Marshak for answers. “People were asking me questions about the walkout, and I didn’t know the answers, so I just started organizing,” said Marshak. 

    Marshak was now in charge of this walkout. He started spreading awareness about it on social media, coordinating with school officials, and organizing the event details. “It took the coordination of many people. I was in contact with administration the entire time making sure that everything was organized, safe, and thoroughly communicated,” said Marshak. He also received help and guidance from his friends, his mother, his assistant principals, and his counselor. 

   Guidance from family is something Marshak has had relentlessly throughout his life. He came out as trangender in sixth grade. Despite facing judgment and prejudice from others, Marshak’s family was very supportive of his identity and his decision to transition. “They’ve always been my warriors and my cheerleaders,” said Marshak. Growing up in a queer, inclusive environment gave Marshak the encouragement and support to come out. 

   Marshak then went on to break many social barriers. He joined Boy Scouts of America, and became the first transgender Scout in Virginia. Being in Boy Scouts with his brothers sparked his love of being outside, and now one of his favorite hobbies is camping. Marshak is also one of the only openly out transgender students at Potomac Falls, and he prefers to express himself in a “non-binary-esque” way, not presenting “too masculine” or “too feminine” according to Marshak. 

   Marshak’s personal experiences and leadership skills eventually led him to leading and coordinating the walkout, and he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. “I was not expecting over 100 students to come and support the cause, so I became very emotional because of the overwhelming support,” said Marshak. He also did not plan on giving a speech. His original plan was to encourage conversations amongst the walkout attendees in regards to the issue. “The people around me asked if I wanted to speak, so a lovely friend of mine got everyone’s attention, and I just started speaking about what I was feeling. I was already emotional, so I was trying not to cry while talking,” said Marshak. 

   Marshak would like to thank his family and friends for their years of love and their support in leading the walkout. “I am grateful for everyone who came to the walkout and who has sent me positive thoughts and words,” said Marshak.

   Marshak believes that school should be a safe space for all students, and he wants the environment to be uplifting towards everybody. “I’ve seen throughout my years at Potomac Falls that we are getting more inclusive and understanding of people with different identities and outlooks on life. I hope we continue in that direction, not only for LGBTQ+ students, but for any student that is different.”