Virginia Teacher Fired for Refusing to Use Preferred Pronouns for a Transgender Student
"This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about forcing someone to endorse an ideology under threat of losing his job. That’s neither legal nor constitutional."
A high school French teacher at West Point High School in West Point, Virginia was fired by the local school board after he refused to use male pronouns to refer to a student who is biologically female but identifies as a transgender male, stating that to do so would violate his Christian beliefs.
That teacher, Peter Vlaming, attempted to explain how his faith affects his conduct in the classroom:
"My religious faith dictates that I am to love and respect everyone, whether I agree with them or not. Because we are all made in God's image," Vlaming said at a school board hearing that was held to address the issue.
“I am also aware of, and agree, with speech limits that are placed on public school teachers, concerning matters of religious faith. I represent the state in my role as a public school teacher and therefore speak with a certain authority. That authority is not to be used to promote any one specific worldview, and I don’t. However, we are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed upon me," he added.
As a compromise, Vlaming stated that he would agree to use the student’s new male name and to avoid using any pronouns at all while referring to the student. "I won't use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns,” he is quoted as saying in an online petition.
But that conciliation was not enough for the school administration.
“Administration is requiring that I use masculine pronouns in any and every context at school,” Vlaming explained. “I was informed that any further instances of using female pronouns would be grounds for termination."
After a five-and-a-half hour hearing, the West Point school board did exactly what they had threatened, and voted unanimously to fire Vlaming, a recommendation that was also supported by West Point Public Schools Superintendent Laura Abel. Vlaming had already been put on paid administrative leave on October 31st after he accidentally referred to the student as “her” during a classroom exercise.
Superintendent Abel addressed the termination in a statement:
"The School Board has policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming's non-compliance I therefore recommended termination."
Vlaming’s lawyer, Sean Voyles, countered with a statement to a local news channel:
“Public schools have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold. This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about forcing someone to endorse an ideology under threat of losing his job. That’s neither legal nor constitutional."
Many West Point High School students rallied in support of their teacher, openly voicing their disagreement with the school board’s decision to terminate him.
"I'm just outraged about it," junior Forrest Rohde told a local news station. "He's a really nice guy, he wanted to do everything about his students. He really does care about his students. The thing he will not do is change his ways of thoughts and believing in things just to conform to someone else's ideologies."
"The transgender girl has the right to be whatever she wants but just because she has the right doesn't mean we're not obliged to follow her beliefs," Rohde added.
Rohde posted signs in support of Vlaming all over school grounds after the teacher was first put on administrative leave. The signs stated: "Facts don't care about your feelings," "#Justice for Vlaming," and "Mr. Vlaming is innocent."
Nor was Rohde alone in his support for Vlaming. The day after his termination was voted on by the school board, several dozen students at the high school participated in a walkout on the school lawn in protest of the decision, holding signs proclaiming their support for Vlaming and chanting “Bring him back!”
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” commented Vlaming’s lawyer Shawn Voyles. “Unfortunately, tolerance on the part of the school division has been noticeably absent. It chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Mr. Vlaming and fired him because he didn't relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment.”
Voyles labeled the school district’s insistence that the teacher use the transgender student’s preferred pronouns “unconstitutional compelled speech” and told the media that he and his client are considering further legal action to fight his termination.
“My client has always respected this student’s rights and continues to do so; he simply asked that his rights be respected as well,” said Voyles. “Unfortunately, the school board refused to consider any solutions that would respect the freedoms of everyone involved.”