A Loudoun County, Virginia, gym teacher was placed on leave days after he spoke out against a proposed school policy that says educators should refer to students by the pronouns that align with their gender identity.
Byron "Tanner" Cross, a physical education specialist at Leesburg Elementary School, said at a May 25 school board meeting that following the proposed policy would go against his religious beliefs.
"I love all of my students but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences," he said, according to a recording of the meeting. "I'm a teacher but I serve God first and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it's against my religion, it's lying to my child, it's abuse to a child and it's sinning against our God."
During the meeting, Cross referenced a recent "60 Minutes" episode that talked, in part, about young people who once identified as trans but changed their mind and detransitioned. One person said they did not "get enough pushback" and were allowed to begin gender-affirming hormones after only two appointments.
Cross told the school board members that he was "speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria."
Two days after the meeting, Cross was informed via a letter from the school that he was on paid administrative leave. The letter, which was shared publicly by Cross' attorney Tyson Langhofer, says that the teacher is being investigated for "allegations that you engaged in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School."
“Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, but it’s beyond the pale to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting, which is what such meetings are designed for,” Langhofer said in a statement.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about endorsing an ideology. The school favors certain beliefs, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
The attorney said the school violated Cross' free speech rights and demanded that they reinstate him as a teacher. He also announced on Tuesday that a lawsuit had been filed on behalf of Cross against the school board and superintendents to try and halt the suspension.
Cross is one of many Loudoun County community members who have spoken at school board meetings in recent months to raise objections to the district's diversity and equity initiatives. Parents have argued the district is "indoctrinating" children on racial and LGBTQ issues, and complained that books assigned to high school students are too pornographic for the classroom.
Frustrated by what they consider a dismissive response by the district, they are now collecting signatures in an effort to recall six of the nine school board members. Many of the parents and conservative activists involved in the recall quickly highlighted Cross' situation last week as evidence of the district's leadership has become too liberal.
A spokesperson for Loudoun County Public Schools confirmed that Cross was placed on leave but declined to comment further.
"Under state and federal law regarding the confidentiality of personnel records, this is the only comment Loudoun County Public Schools can have on this matter," the spokesperson said in a statement.