News (USA)

Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of transphobic teacher

Supreme Court, law, legal, case, court, judge, gavel, ruling
Photo: Shutterstock

Virginia’s Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling against a former teacher who refused to use a transgender person’s pronouns. The higher court’s ruling allows the continuation of his lawsuit against the school board that fired him.

Peter Vlaming, a former French teacher from West Point High School, sued the local school board for $1 million after the board fired him for refusing to use a trans student’s male pronouns. The student had recently transitioned and gotten a legal name change. Even though Vlaming would refer to the student by his new name, the teacher said that using male pronouns would violate his own religious beliefs and free speech rights.

Vlaming sued and was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a massively influential Christian legal group that regularly mounts legal challenges to any expansion of LGBTQ+ civil rights. The King William Circuit Court dismissed Vlaming’s suit, finding that Vlaming hadn’t substantiated his legal case. But the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal.

“Compelling an educator’s ‘speech or silence’ on such a divisive issue would cast ‘a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom’ on a topic that has ‘produced a passionate political and social debate,’” Virginia Supreme Court Justice D. Arthur Kelsey wrote in his opinion, adding that the Virginia Constitution “seeks to protect diversity of thought, diversity of speech, diversity of religion, and diversity of opinions,” Inside Nova reported.

However, three of the court’s seven justices wrote in their dissent that allowing Vlaming’s religious rights claim to proceed “establishes a sweeping super scrutiny standard with the potential to shield any person’s objection to practically any policy or law by claiming a religious justification for their failure to follow either.”

In a hearing, school board attorney Alan Schoenfeld said Vlaming’s speech was part of his official teaching duties. As such, his refusal to use the student’s pronouns clearly violated the school district’s anti-discrimination policy, WVEC reported.

In 2020, Virginia’s legislature passed a law requiring schools to adopt trans-inclusive policies. However, with the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) later that year, he directed the state’s Department of Education (VDOE) to issue new policies requiring teachers to use a student’s legal name and the pronouns associated with their “biological sex.”

Some of the state’s largest school districts have been refusing to follow the policies, saying that federal and state anti-discrimination laws take precedence over the VDOE’s policies. Because the 2023 midterm elections helped Democrats retake control of the state legislature, they’ll be able to stop Republicans’ transphobic laws, but the schools will remain a battlefield.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Dylan Mulvaney’s “Blue Christmas” is the trans holiday torch song we need right now

Previous article

Ugandan gay man fears for his life as he gets deported: “I have nowhere to go”

Next article