Virginia teacher sues, says he was fired for refusing to use transgender student's pronouns

A Virginia high school French teacher fired in December for refusing to call a transgender student by the pupil's preferred pronoun is suing the school district, claiming his rights to free speech and religious beliefs were violated.

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The lawsuit, filed Monday by Peter Vlaming in King William County Circuit Court, names the West Point School Board, District Superintendent Laura Abel and West Point High School Principal Jonathan Hochman as defendants.

"Vlaming's conscience and religious practice prevents him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie," the lawsuit said.

A spokesperson for West Point Schools and its board told The Washington Post it denied any wrongdoing and will "vigorously defend" against Vlaming's claim.

“West Point Public Schools’ primary focus is on students, staff, and instruction, and we will continue to direct our energy toward maintaining a high-quality learning environment in our schools,” the spokesperson told the newspaper.

Vlaming was fired Dec. 6, 2018, for not using the preferred pronoun of a female-to-male transgender student. Vlaming had used the student's preferred new name but refused to use the requested pronoun, The Virginian-Pilot reported. That prompted the West Point School Board to rule the teacher violated policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The teacher's firing stemmed from an Oct. 31, 2018, incident, the Post reported. The student was wearing virtual reality goggles and almost ran into a wall. Vlaming shouted, "Don't let her run into the wall."

According to the lawsuit, the student approached Vlaming after class and said, "You may have your religion, but you must respect who I am."

According to the lawsuit, Vlaming apologized to the student and said his words were "an unintentional quick reaction," trying to keep the student from getting hurt.

The school board meeting in December lasted more than five hours, the Post reported. Vlaming said he was being coerced into using language he didn't agree with, the newspaper reported.

School board officials disagreed and terminated his contract,

"The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue," the school board said in a statement to WWBT.

"I'm saddened that West Point Public Schools wouldn't work with me to reach a happy situation for everyone on this matter so that we could all continue on with learning in mutual respect," Vlaming said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the school board and $1 million in lost wages and reputation.

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