Virginia teacher fired for refusing to use transgender student's pronouns, citing Christian faith

Peter Vlaming, 47, refused to use male pronouns, administrators say

Peter Vlaming, a former Virginia high school teacher, was fired Thursday after allegedly refusing to use a transgender student's male pronouns.

WEST POINT, Va. - A Virginia high school teacher was fired Thursday for refusing to use a transgender student's new pronouns, citing religious reasons.

Peter Vlaming, 47, taught French at West Point High School for almost seven years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He was fired after a hearing in which the school board voted 5-0 in favor of his termination, the paper said.

Vlaming told school administrators that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns to refer to a female-to-male transgender student in his class. Vlaming reportedly agreed to use the student's new name, but avoided using any pronouns when referring to him.

“I’m totally happy to use the new name,” Vlaming told WWBT. “I’m happy to avoid female pronouns not to offend because I’m not here to provoke, but I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith.”

School administrators said Vlaming violated the school's nondiscrimination and harassment policies.

“That was in fact discriminatory because all the other students were being used pronouns, but this student was not being used pronouns,” Superintendent Laura Abel testified. "That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment."

Vlaming's attorney, Shawn Voyles, argued that the termination violated his First Amendment rights.

"The student is absolutely free to identify however the student pleases," Voyles told WWBT. "The school board though, adopted one viewpoint and then required Mr. Vlaming, at the cost of his job, to repeat that ideology- to repeat that viewpoint. That’s where that’s compelled speech. That’s where it violates his First Amendment rights that he does still retain as a public employee."

Vlaming's refusal to use male pronouns became an issue for the school in October during a virtual reality exercise. Vlaming reportedly called out, "Don't let her walk into the wall," referring to the transgender student.

Administrators said they discussed the incident with Vlaming, and he made it clear he would not use male pronouns when referring to the transgender student. He was placed on administrative leave on October 31.

Online petitions for and against Vlaming's firing, respectively titled "Protect Trans Kids" and "Don’t terminate Mr. Vlaming," each had nearly 2,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

The district released a statement following the school board's decision:

The School Board has policies that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to this insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforcement board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming’s non-compliance I therefore recommended termination.

Watch WWBT's report below: 

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