A Virginia teacher who was fired last year after refusing to use a pronouns that aligned with a transgender student’s gender identity believes he was a victim of discrimination because of his religious faith.
Peter Vlaming is seeking $1 million in damages from the West Point School Board in West Point, Virginia, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. Vlaming, who taught French at West Point High School for nearly seven years, alleged in his suit that he “could not violate his conscience” by using “he, him, his” when referencing a ninth grade transgender student.
The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Caleb Dalton, who is representing Vlaming, said in a Monday statement that his client agreed to address the student by name. Pronouns, however, were a different story.
“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,” he added. “Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.”
Vlaming echoed those sentiments and added in a statement, “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.”
Though Vlaming said he opted to avoid using pronouns altogether while referring to the student, a tipping point came during a virtual reality classroom exercise in October 2018. He yelled, “Don’t let her hit the wall!” as the trans student walked in that direction, the lawsuit states.
The student reportedly withdrew from the class shortly afterward. After a meeting with school administrators, Vlaming cited his Christian faith and once again refused to address the student with male pronouns.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” West Point Superintendent Laura Abel told The Associated Press in a 2018 interview. “They felt disrespected.”
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for West Point Public Schools released a statement saying the district “intend(s) to vigorously defend” itself against Vlaming’s claims.
“The School Board does not intend to comment further on the pending litigation at this time,” the statement continued.
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