A popular Virginia teacher sued the school for firing him after he refused to use male pronouns to address a female student who identified as transgender.
Peter Vlaming, a former French teacher at West Point High School, filed a lawsuit against the West Point School Board after the school fired him in December 2018. West Point had issued him an ultimatum: Use the male pronoun for a female student or lose his job. Vlaming referred to the student by her chosen, though traditionally male, name and avoided using any pronouns to address pupils to accommodate the transgender student. Unsatisfied, school officials demanded that he speak specific words—the pronouns “he” and “him.”
Vlaming, a Christian, said the school board tried to force him to communicate a message he doesn’t believe: That “gender identity, rather than biological reality, fundamentally shapes and defines who we are as humans,” according to his lawsuit. To refer to a female student by male pronouns would require him to lie intentionally.
“Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students; his school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Caleb Dalton, who represents Vlaming. “The school board didn’t care how well Peter treated this student. It was on a crusade to compel conformity.”
Dalton told me that cases like Vlaming’s have become more common. In May 2016, the U.S. departments of Justice and Education under President Barack Obama issued a guidance letter equating gender identity discrimination with sex discrimination. The Trump administration withdrew the guidance in February 2017. The school gave Vlaming a copy of the letter, as well as a document from political advocacy organization the National Center for Transgender Equality, as justification for the pronoun command.
Other teachers have run afoul of the pronoun police. Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Ohio’s Shawnee State University, filed a federal lawsuit in November 2018 after university officials disciplined him because he declined to use feminine courtesy titles and pronouns to refer to a male student who identified as a female. He said to do so contradicted his Christian convictions. Last month, a federal magistrate judge recommended Meriwether’s complaint be dismissed. Meriwether plans on filing objections to the recommendation, and a district court judge must consider his arguments before a final ruling.
University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson ignited perhaps the most notorious pronoun storm when he took to YouTube to object to a proposed change in Canadian law adding gender identity and gender expression to its anti-discrimination rules. Peterson also opposed the university making anti-bias and anti-discrimination training mandatory for its staff—a move he described as a harbinger of a totalitarian state. “I don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them,” the author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos told Toronto Life.
Vlaming has not written a book, recorded a YouTube rant, or taken on all the confusion surrounding gender dysphoria. He just wants to teach French. After learning of his firing, a large group of students staged a walkout to protest the school board’s decision, The Christian Post reported. Dalton said Vlaming has been unable to find work as a teacher since then. He had to take a non-education job to support his family—all over pronouns.
“I love French. It’s fascinating and beautiful,” Vlaming said. “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.”