A Virginia teacher has been fired after refusing to use the preferred pronouns of a transgender student.
In a unanimous decision, the West Point School Board voted 5-0 in favor of terminating Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School, after he refused to refer to a ninth-grade transgender student by his preferred pronouns.
Following the student's gender transition, Vlaming was ordered to refer to the student as male, keeping in line with the school's nondiscrimination and harassment policies. But Vlaming refused, telling the school it went against his Christian beliefs.
"I'm totally happy to use the new name," Vlaming said speaking with 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."
Virginia teacher fired after refusing to use transgender student's preferred pronouns https://t.co/9KIxT8Q3Ke https://t.co/yi0jDcM6L3— The Hill (@The Hill) 1544198823.0
Superintendent Laura Abel believed Vlaming's compromise still amounted to discrimination though.
"That was in fact discriminatory because all the other students were being used pronouns, but this student was not being used pronouns," Abel testified during the public hearing.
"That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected," Abel told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
When the student and his family accused the 47-year-old teacher of discrimination the school administration agreed and recommended that Vlaming be fired.
Now Vlaming's attorney, Shawn Voyles is arguing that his client's right were violated.
"Tolerance is a two-way street. My client respects this student's rights; he is simply asking that his rights be respected as well. The student is absolutely free to identify as the student pleases."
"The school board adopted one viewpoint and required Mr. Vlaming, at the cost of his job, to repeat that ideology, repeat that viewpoint. That's where it's compelled speech. That's where it violates his First Amendment right he still retains as a public employee."
The school board's decision sparked a firestorm of controversy across social media.
Many agreed that Vlaming's actions were discriminatory and they were glad to see him go.
@AP https://t.co/B5bAYgoPBO— Matt Polidoro (@Matt Polidoro) 1544217706.0
@BuzzFeedNews https://t.co/dEYEYcYZf4— meg (@meg) 1544218677.0
@AP https://t.co/FokvrtDoEa— Chazbo (@Chazbo) 1544216966.0
So which faith, exactly, states "thou shalt not use someone's stated pronouns"? Let me explain something: If your… https://t.co/wHZ4Kf7Hso— Sam Dylan Finch 🍓 (@Sam Dylan Finch 🍓) 1544300160.0
@thehill This is important and right action. Schools need to support #queerkids. When in doubt, their support needs… https://t.co/MkvbzEeonC— Flame🔥 (@Flame🔥) 1544199414.0
@BuzzFeedNews https://t.co/9RmPC042M9— Tony James (@Tony James) 1544218779.0
While those who disagreed with the ruling ranged in thinking from feeling the board had gone too far to believing it represented political correctness run amok.
Hmm 🤔 I don’t believe he should have been fired. https://t.co/XP4G7uIx0V— Damon Parran (@Damon Parran) 1544303357.0
@AP This firing is RIDICULOUS.— Angela*ArticleV+TermLimits (@Angela*ArticleV+TermLimits) 1544218264.0
@AP "Treating me equally requires inventing an entirely new English syntax and firing anyone who doesn't want to use it" is so 2018.— TallDave (@TallDave) 1544287804.0
The decision to fire Vlaming seems to have similarly split students at West Point High School.
Many appeared at the public hearing in support of the transgender student. Others however are standing behind Vlaming.
An online petition titled "Don't terminate Mr. Vlaming" has received over 2400 signatures. Students also organized a walk-out the day after Vlaming was terminated.
HAPPENING NOW: West Point Middle and High School students are participating in a walkout. This comes one day after… https://t.co/wsr8lPYO0N— Sierra Fox (@Sierra Fox) 1544203851.0
An issue at the crossroads of religious, personal and political beliefs, controversy is nothing new when it comes to discussing transgender acceptance.
Cases like Vlaming's though still leave advocates wondering why preferred pronouns seem to be the most controversial aspect of the issue.
@AP It’s such a little thing to do to make a kid happy and save someone grief. When there is so much we can’t help with, why?— MDelaney (@MDelaney) 1544275303.0