An American high school teacher who refused to use a transgender student’s new pronouns has been fired.
News outlets report that the West Point School Board in Virginia voted unanimously on Thursday to dismiss Peter Vlaming after a four-hour hearing that drew an overflow crowd. The school system said in a statement that Vlaming was fired for insubordination.
Over the summer, the ninth-grade student’s family informed the school system of the student’s gender transition to male. The student wasn’t involved in Thursday’s hearing. It is not suggested that the 47-year-old West Point High School French teacher deliberately referred to the student using female pronouns in the student’s presence, but in conversations with others.
Witnesses described a “slip-up” when the student was about to run into a wall and Vlaming told others to stop “her.” When discussing the incident with administrators, Vlaming made it clear he would not use male pronouns, a stance that led to his suspension referral for disciplinary action.
“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 that he told Vlaming to use male pronouns in accordance with the student’s wishes.
Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student. Vlaming said he had the student in class the year before when the student identified as female.
Vlaming’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, says his client offered to use the student’s name and to avoid feminine pronouns, but Voyles says the school was unwilling to accept the compromise.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” said West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel. “They felt disrespected.”
Nondiscrimination policies were updated a year ago to include protections for gender identity, but didn’t include guidance on gender pronoun use, according to Vlaming’s lawyer, Voyles, who notes Vlaming has constitutional rights.
“One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience,” Voyles said.
Vlaming said he loves and respects all his students but when a solution he tried to reach based on “mutual tolerance” was rejected, he was at risk of losing his job for having views held by “most of the world for most of human history.”
“That is not tolerance,” Vlaming said. “That is coercion.” Vlaming is considering a legal appeal, but said he wants to consult with his attorney before announcing further steps.
“I have to research how we would do that, what that would entail,” Vlaming said. “I do think it’s a serious question of First Amendment rights.”
Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ-rights group, said the situation reveals the need for “statewide guidance” that will protect all students from discrimination at school.