A Virginia high school teacher who was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns has filed a lawsuit against the school district.
Officials at West Point High School, about 40 miles east of Richmond, cited nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies in December when it terminated French teacher Peter Vlaming over his refusal to call a female-to-male transgender student by his preferred pronoun.
But Vlaming fired back in a lawsuit filed on Monday, accusing the West Point School Board of violating his right to free speech. He said he was fired because he avoided using pronouns all together when referring to the student, who was transitioning to male at the time.
Using male pronouns, such as "him" and "he" when addressing the student would have violated his "conscience," Vlaming said in the suit, citing religious beliefs.
He said school administrators eventually gave him an ultimatum: either use male pronouns or risk losing his job.
"Defendants made up an uncompromising interpretation of their policies to compel Mr. Vlaming to take sides in an ongoing public debate regarding gender dysphoria and use pronouns that express an objectively untrue ideological message," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Vlaming's conscience and religious practice prohibits him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female student as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie."
He is seeking $1 million in damages. The West Point School Board said it "denies any liability" and intends to "defend against any claims," according to a statement.
An online petition in support of Vlaming, titled "Don't terminate Mr. Vlaming," acquired more than 1,000 signatures.
The petition quotes Vlaming saying: "I won't use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns."
The West Point School Board voted unanimously to terminate Vlaming. Superintendent Laura Abel said she agreed with the decision at the time.
"As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to insubordination through his repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple West Point Public Schools administrators," Abel said in a December statement. "As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming’s non-compliance I therefore recommended termination."
The school also held a public hearing on the matter, which featured testimony from the school's principal, Jonathan Hochman, who claimed Vlaming told him that he liked and missed "the female version of the student."