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Teacher fired for refusing to use transgender student’s pronouns launches legal action

Lawyers claim teacher was forced to ‘express ideas about human nature he believes are false’

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 02 October 2019 11:34 BST
A spokesperson for West Point Schools said it would 'vigorously' fight the action
A spokesperson for West Point Schools said it would 'vigorously' fight the action (Getty)

A Virginia high school teacher has filed a lawsuit after being fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns, arguing he is being discriminated against for his faith.

Peter Vlaming, who worked as a French teacher at West Point High School, Virginia, said he would use the student’s chosen name – as well as a French equivalent they had picked out – after his parents revealed their son’s transition to the school.

However the teacher refused to refer to him using male pronouns, while continuing to use female pronouns when talking about them to other students and members of staff.

In court filings, representatives for Mr Vlaming said referring to the student with his preferred pronouns was a breach of his freedom of speech and against his religious beliefs, arguing that his faith “prohibits him from intentionally lying”.

The filing for Vlaming v West Point School board, which repeatedly refers to the student using female pronouns, adds: “It is Mr Vlaming’s sincerely held belief that referring to a female that referring to a female as male is untruthful and prohibited by his faith and conscience”.

The flash point for the dismissal, according to the legal document, was a class on Halloween 2018 in which students were using virtual reality goggles.

Foreseeing a potential incident involving the student, the teacher called out to a classmate “don’t let her hit the wall”.

After class he approached the teacher, saying “Mr Vlaming, you may have your religion, but you need to respect who I am”.

He apologised, telling the student it was an involuntary response and adding “I’m sorry, this is difficult” according to filings. He was later reprimanded by the school’s principal, who told him “You know what you do to diffuse a situation like that? You say, ‘I’m sorry, I meant to say him’”.

However the incident appeared to have been the final straw after several concerns were raised with school officials relating to his treatment of the student in December. The following day Mr Vlaming was suspended, before being removed from his post after a five-and-a-half-hour hearing.

Now his legal representation claims the government has forced Mr Vlaming “to express ideas about human nature, unrelated to the school’s curriculum, that he believes are false”, and to “take sides in an ongoing public debate about gender dysphoria”.

The teacher is being represented by lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom – a legal advocacy operation identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The ADF refute the claim.

The complaint adds: “Defendants gave Mr Vlaming an ultimatum: use male pronouns for this female student or lose your job.

“Mr Vlaming could not violate his conscience, and it cost him his job”.

A spokesperson for West Point Schools told The Washington Post it would “vigorously defend” against the claim.

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