A US high school teacher sacked last year for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns is now suing school officials for religious discrimination.
In the lawsuit, filed this week, French teacher Peter Vlaming said he was fired by West Point High School in Virginia after refusing to use “he” and “him” pronouns when referring to the transgender male student in his class.
Vlaming said using these pronouns, which the unnamed trans student requested when he began transitioning, would “violate his conscience.”
“Vlaming’s conscience and religious practice prevents him from intentionally lying,” the lawsuit states.
“He sincerely believes referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie.”
Vlaming claims he met with the ninth grade student and his mother at the beginning of last year to explain the student was transitioning.
The teacher claims he agreed to use the student’s chosen name in class and avoid pronouns altogether.
In an incident in the class last October, Vlaming referred to the student as “her”. He claimed it was accidental and he later apologised to the student.
According to the lawsuit, the student said, “Mr Vlaming, you may have your religion, but you need to respect who I am.”
The transgender student reportedly later withdrew from the class.
‘Hostile environment’ for transgender student
Last December, the school board voted unanimously to sack Vlaming for ignoring numerous directives from bosses to use the male pronouns.
“By failing to follow the directive he was therefore discriminating and creating a hostile environment,” schools superintendent Laura Abel said at the time.
“[Discrimination] leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected.”
But Vlaming claims the school board breached his contract and violated his freedom of speech and religion. He’s seeking $1 million in damages for lost wages and emotional distress.
The lawsuit repeatedly misgenders the trans student, using “she” and “her” pronouns throughout.
A spokesperson for the school told Buzzfeed the school “denies any liability to Mr. Vlaming, and we intend to vigorously defend against any claims.”
Local LGBTIQ rights group Equality Virginia said the situation reveals the need for “statewide guidance” to protect all students from discrimination.
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