Teacher who refused to use male pronouns for transgender student says he was wrongfully fired
Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School was terminated last year after saying he couldn't "in good conscience" use the pronouns his student preferred, according to the lawsuit.
The suit, filed Monday, cited Vlaming's religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal. The teacher said that despite that, he regularly referred to the student by his male name, and tried to simply avoid using pronouns with him altogether. That solution wasn't enough though, according to Vlaming's lawyers.
"[The school] gave Mr. Vlaming an ultimatum: Use male pronouns for this female student or lose your job," the lawsuit says.
Vlaming was originally suspended for insubordination, then, last December, he was let go completely. The suit states that Vlaming repeatedly tried to make his religious views clear to administrators, adding that the school was misinterpreting its own rules in order to fire him.
"[The school] 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.
The suit says that Vlaming felt as though using male pronouns for a student he perceived as a female was "telling a lie." It also outlines an incident in which the teacher, who worked in the district for seven years, was accused of using female pronouns for the student.
In that instance, Vlaming claims he accidentally used the word "her" during a group exercise and pulled the student aside after class to apologize.
"Mr. Vlaming, you may have your religion, but you need to respect who I am!" the student said, according to the suit.
Shortly after Vlaming's firing, Superintendent Laura Abel told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the student's parents felt the teacher's behavior created a "hostile learning environment," adding that the family felt "disrespected."
"That is not tolerance," Vlaming said of his firing the time. "That is coercion."
And at least some students agreed with that sentiment. Last December, several of Vlaming's students staged a walkout to protest his firing, holding signs featuring such slogans as "Men are men."
Vlaming seeks $1 million in damages, citing lost wages and benefits as well as emotional distress and damage to his reputation. He also asks to get his old job back or to receive a similar position with equal or higher pay.