After the controversial firing of a teacher in King William County, Virginia, dozens of groups, including members of Northern Virginia school boards, came together to show their support for the decision to fire an educator who refused to say a student’s favorite pronoun.
After the controversial firing of a teacher in King William County, Virginia, dozens of groups, including members of Northern Virginia school boards, gathered to support the decision to fire the teacher who refused to name the student’s favorite pronoun.
LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality of Virginia and more than 50 other partners and school board leaders in Virginia submitted a peace statement on Wednesday, asking the Virginia Supreme Court to uphold the Circuit Court of King William County dismissal of high school French teacher Peter Vlaming v. West Point School Board.
Several board members in five Virginia counties support the school’s decision, including Falls Church school board members Laura Downs, David Ortiz and Lori Silverman; Arlington School Board members Barbara Kanninen and David Priddy; and Fairfax County School Board member Carl W. Frisch.
West Point’s board rejected Vlaming’s claims that his firing for violating its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies actually violated his own rights under Virginia law.
“The West Point School Board has a compelling interest in protecting its transgender students from the harms of discriminatory treatment. It must also comply with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination against transgender children based on their gender identity, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the briefing said.
“To serve these interests and to comply with the law, the West Point School Board must treat its transgender students equally, including by ensuring that its employees address transgender students as they would their cisgender peers, with names and pronouns, that reflect their gender identity.’
Vlaming, a teacher in the district for nearly six years, tried to avoid using student-friendly pronouns by referring to the student by name only, and school officials ordered the use of pronouns.
In accordance with news releaseVlaming stated that he “could not in good conscience comply with a superintendent’s order to refer to one of his students by pronouns that did not match the student’s biological sex.”
“Peter was not fired for what he said,” Chris Chandevel, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group representing Vlaming, said in a statement last May. “He was fired for what he couldn’t say.”
“By refusing to deny biological reality, by acquiescing to the demands of his disciple, Mr. Vlaming acted in [the student’s] in the best interest,” according to court documents defending Vlaming’s actions.
Recent The amicus brief, however, points to a negative and damaging experience transgender and non-binary students in Virginia schools to illustrate why anti-discrimination policies and practices can reduce harm; this includes using the correct student pronouns.
“Transgender and non-binary students are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience physical abuse, bullying, and extreme emotional harm that affects their well-being and education,” Narissa S. Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.
“The West Point School Board’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy is designed to counter and prevent this harm,” Rahaman said. “We know that transgender students thrive when they are supported by an inclusive school environment that includes using their correct pronouns.”
According to S. Douglas Bunch, a partner at a civil rights law firm that advised the court, the refusal to verify the identity of transgender students is a cause of harm well established in the courts.
“School policies, such as using pronouns that reflect a transgender student’s identity, exist to mitigate this harm and allow all students to thrive in school,” Bunch said.
Last June, a judge ordered Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher who was fired for refusing to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns because of religious beliefs. His suspension was declared unconstitutional.