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Teacher Sues After Being Fired for Misgendering Trans Student

The school says it will vigorously protect its trans students.

The school says it will vigorously protect its trans students.

A teacher is suing a West Point, Virginia high school because it wanted him to respect a transgender student's identity.

The West Point High School student, who is not named in the undated complaint, informed the teacher of his transition in the summer of 2018. But the instructor, Peter Vlaming, refused to recognize the student's new name and pronouns, according to the lawsuit.

Instead Vlaming said his religion compelled him to use what he considered to be the student's correct pronouns, creating a hostile learning environment that eventually led to his being fired.

Vlaming reportedly used female pronouns to refer to the student behind his back with other students, according to the suit. After repeated incidents, the student and his family met with the school and with Vlaming. In response, the teacher began using only the student's name in class, avoiding pronouns completely.

"Vlaming's conscience and religious practice prevents him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie," his lawsuit claims.

Eventually the school board held meetings about the situation. The school firmly supported the student, with West Point High School Principal Jonathan Hochman reportedly telling the board, "I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening."

Eventually Vlaming was suspended and then fired.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the school, preventing them from disciplining teachers who misgender trans students. That echoes efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate protections for trans people in schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and the military.

The school district, for its part, told the Washington Post that they would vigorously fight the lawsuit. "West Point Public Schools' primary focus is on students, staff, and instruction," a spokesperson said, "and we will continue to direct our energy toward maintaining a high-quality learning environment in our schools."

Other teachers have set up similar conflicts. In Jacksonville, Florida, a teacher was reprimanded in a similar case, and a professor at Ohio's Shawnee State University said he was "formally charged" for calling a trans woman "sir."

And in nearby Gloucester County, a school is currently embroiled in lengthy litigation over whether it could bar student Gavin Grimm from using restrooms after transitioning. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, sending it down to a lower court that found the school to have violated Grimm's rights.

Vlaming is being represented by the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which conducts litigation on behalf of laws and individuals that oppose the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The ADF is also responsible for numerous "bathroom bills" across the country which seek to block trans access to restrooms. The group has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The ADF claims that the school was "on a crusade to compel conformity" and that officials tried to force Vlaming to "express ideas about human nature" that his religion tells him are false.

RELATED | Gavin Grimm Just Won His Case for Trans Bathroom Rights

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