Peter Vlaming, the teacher who lost his job for not using male pronouns when referring to a biologically female student, has filed a lawsuit against his former employers.
Vlaming, who has taught French in the district for seven years, was fired from West Point High School in West Virginia in December 2018.
Why was he fired?
He had a female student, who started to identify herself as a male at some point. The student spoke with Vlaming and asked him to use her preferred name and male pronouns.
As a professional, he agreed to call the student by her preferred name instead of her given name; as a Christian, he refused to use a male pronoun as it would be “objectively untrue”.
Instead, Vlaming claims in the lawsuit, filed in the King William County Circuit Court on Monday, that he would avoid using any pronouns when referring to the student to accommodate her. However, he admits, he once inadvertently uttered a female pronoun when referring to the student.
What was the reaction?
The incident was followed by a complaint and conversations with school superiors, who ordered that Vlaming use specific pronouns – such as “he” and “him” – when referring to the student, even when the student wasn’t present.
The teacher stated that he could not comply with their demand because it violated his religious convictions. The school board eventually voted unanimously to fire Vlaming for violating its policies against discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity – a decision he called “arbitrary and capricious”.
The following day, about a hundred middle and high school students staged a walkout in support of Vlaming.
He now argues that the school board “did not have any written policy” regarding the use of pronouns and that no part of the school board policy defines discrimination to include using male pronouns to refer to a biological female, or vice versa.
The lawsuit alleges that the school board had instead interpreted 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.”
What does he now demand?
Vlaming believes that his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of exercise have been violated, and is seeking $500,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits, and $500,000 in damages for “loss of reputation, pain, suffering, and emotional distress”.
He also requests to be reinstated, and is seeking a permanent injunction that would prevent the school board from punishing staff for their views on gender identity.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group representing his interests, said that the school board policy was a “crusade to compel conformity”.
“He works hard to make his students feel welcomed,” ADF said of Vlaming. “In his French class, he always calls his students by the name they chose. He even used the student’s preferred masculine name and was willing to avoid using pronouns in the student’s presence. He just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience. That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right. Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.”