Virginia school board members back district in suit over teacher fired in student pronoun dispute

Eight school board members from five school divisions in Virginia filed a brief with the state Supreme Court in support of West Point Public Schools after the district fired a teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

High school French teacher Peter Vlaming lost his job for refusing to use male pronouns to refer to a biologically female student who requested he use male pronouns.

The school board says the teacher’s refusal to use male pronouns was transgender discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Vlaming filed a lawsuit to get back his job.

According to his attorneys, Vlaming consistently used the student’s preferred name, but did not feel comfortable using male pronouns. Rather, the teacher avoided using pronouns altogether. In the lawsuit, Vlaming’s lawyers argued the school violated the First Amendment and Virginia law by trying to compel speech.

“This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said at the time of the initial lawsuit. “This was never about anything Peter said or did, only about what the school was demanding he say. Nobody should be forced to contradict his core beliefs just to keep a job.”

A school superintendent in Richmond also signed onto the brief.

“Transgender and non-binary students, when compared to their cisgender peers, face physical abuse, bullying and extreme emotional harm at higher rates, which impact their well-being and education,” says Narissa S. Rahaman, the executive director of Equality Virginia, which led the brief. “We know that transgender students thrive when they are supported by an inclusive school environment, which includes using their correct pronouns.”

Last year, a teacher in Virginia’s Loudoun County who criticized a proposed transgender policy during a public hearing reached a settlement with the school district after being put on administrative leave for his comments.

The teacher, Tanner Cross, was allowed to keep his job, per the settlement agreement. Cross was also represented by ADF.

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