A Virginia high school teacher, who refused to use the preferred pronouns of a student who claims to be transgender, was fired Thursday.
In a case that is believed to be the first of its kind in the state, the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire Peter Vlaming, a French teacher in the district’s high school.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Vlaming “resisted administrators’ orders to use male pronouns to refer to a ninth-grade student who had undergone a gender transition.”
“I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening,” said West Point High Principal Jonathan Hochman, who testified that he instructed Vlaming to use male pronouns.
Vlaming, 47, had been teaching at the school for nearly seven years after living in France for more than a decade. He told administrators his Christian beliefs did not allow him to use male pronouns for a biologically female student – one he had previously taught when she identified as female.
While Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new, male name, he attempted to avoid using the pronouns – he, him, she, her – when referring to her. The student reportedly complained she felt uncomfortable and targeted with his refusal to use her preferred pronouns.
During a public hearing, Vlaming said he respects all his students and had attempted to resolve the situation based on “mutual tolerance.”
His effort, however, was not accepted, he said, putting him in the position of risking the loss of his job for having views held by “most of the world for most of human history.”
“That is not tolerance,” Vlaming said, according to the Times-Dispatch. “That is coercion.”
According to the news report, administrators agreed that Vlaming was discriminating against the student.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment,” said West Point schools superintendent Laura Abel. “And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected.”
West Point High School administrators recommended to the board that Vlaming be fired, asserting he had violated the district’s nondiscrimination and harassment policies.
“Does this board expect its employees to follow its policies or not?” said attorney Stacy Haney, who was representing the school district.
“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,” said Abel in a statement following the vote to terminate Vlaming.
The school district’s nondiscrimination policies reportedly include gender identity protections but no specific regulations on the use of pronouns.
Vlaming’s attorney also said the teacher also has constitutional rights – even though he is a public employee.
“One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience,” Shawn Voyles said.
The Times-Dispatch reported:
The hearing drew an overflow crowd, made up largely of parents and students supporting a man they described as a model teacher who does extra duty as a soccer coach and bus driver. A stack of signs that read “Justice for Mr. Vlaming” sat by the door, but school officials said no signs would be allowed in the small meeting room that could fit only a fraction of the crowd.
LGBTQ-rights group Equality Virginia called for “statewide guidance” that will protect all students from discrimination at school.