A Virginia teacher who refused to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns and was fired as a result filed a lawsuit Monday against the school district.
Peter Vlaming, a French teacher who was unanimously fired by the West Point School Board in December 2018, said in his lawsuit he was fired because he exercised his First Amendment right to free speech.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means,” explained Tyson Langhofer, of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Vlaming.
Langhofer, senior counsel director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, added, “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.”
Vlaming had been teaching at West Point High School for nearly seven years after living in France for more than a decade. The superintendent of the school district ordered him to use male pronouns for a biologically female student – one he had previously taught when she identified as female – who now claims to be transgender.
Vlaming responded, however, his Christian beliefs did not allow him to use the preferred pronouns. While he agreed to use the student’s new male name, he avoided 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.
“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 during a public hearing that he instructed Vlaming to use male pronouns.
Though the school district had no written policy about use of preferred pronouns for transgender students, ADF noted Vlaming was directed to cease “avoiding the use of male pronouns” to refer to the student, even when the student wasn’t present. The board ultimately fired Vlaming when he stated he could not comply because their demand was in conflict with his faith beliefs.
“Defendants made up an uncompromising interpretation of their policies to compel Mr. Vlaming to take sides in an ongoing public debate regarding gender dysphoria and use pronouns that express an objectively untrue ideological message,” the lawsuit states.
Vlaming testified during the public hearing that 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.”
Superintendent Laura Abel said Vlaming’s position amounted to “discrimination” that “then leads to creating a hostile learning environment.”
West Point High School administrators ultimately 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.
“Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “His school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs.”
The case is Vlaming v. West Point School Board, in Circuit Court for the County of King William (VA).