A teacher at West Point High School in Virginia was fired recently over his religious objections to using male pronouns when referring to a student who is biologically female but identifies as male.
The West Point School Board unanimously voted 5-0 Thursday to dismiss 47-year-old French teacher Peter Vlaming following a four-hour hearing. They argued that he was in “willful violation of school board policy.”
“We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family,” they said in a statement. “Mr. Vlaming was asked repeatedly, over several weeks and by multiple administrators, to address a student by the pronouns with which this student identifies. The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue. Mr. Vlaming consistently refused to comply going forward -- including in a statement made at the hearing -- a willful violation of school board policy.”
Vlaming cited his Christian faith and told his superiors that he was willing to use the student’s name and simply avoid using feminine pronouns but he says the school rejected that compromise.
"That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that," West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel said regarding Vlaming's insistence on avoiding the student's preferred pronouns. "They felt disrespected."
However, some parents and students support Vlaming and there is a petition underway entitled “Don’t Terminate Mr. Vlaming” which has 2,632 supporters.
"I'm just outraged about it," Forrest Rohde, a West Point High School junior told WRIC. "He's a really nice guy, he wanted to do everything about his students. He really does care about his students. The thing he will not do is change his ways of thoughts and believing in things just to conform to someone else's ideologies."
"I see this stuff on the news far away from here," he added, "but when it hits close to home and someone's free speech is being violated, I have to step in and say something about it."
One parent pointed out that the school did not even have a specific policy in place in regard to the use of gender pronouns.
“If there’s no policy in place, how can they just let him go?” Jennifer Haynes, a 52-year-old West Point High parent, asked.
Vlaming's lawyer, Shawn Voyles, who noted this as well, argued that his client has constitutional rights.
"One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience," he said.
As for Vlaming, he said that he respects the views of others and was just aiming for some “mutual tolerance.”
“That is not tolerance,” he said. “That is coercion.”
He is consulting with his attorney about appropriate legal action.
“I have to research how we would do that, what that would entail,” Vlaming said. “I do think it’s a serious question of First Amendment rights.”