Virginia teacher sues school after being fired for not using transgender student's pronouns

Peter Vlaming, who taught French, was fired from West Point High School in December 2018. He said using the preferred pronouns would violate his religious beliefs.
Peter Vlaming speaks at a West Point School Board hearing in West Point, Virginia, on Dec. 6, 2018.Shelby Lum / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP file
By Minyvonne Burke

A Virginia high school teacher who was fired for refusing to use a transgender student's preferred pronouns has filed a lawsuit against school officials and the board.

Peter Vlaming, who was a French teacher at West Point High School, said he was fired because he would not use pronouns such as "him" and "his" to refer to a female student who was transitioning to male.

According to the suit filed Monday in King William County, using the male pronouns would have "violated" Vlaming's "conscience" and went against his religious beliefs, so he called the student by his preferred name during class and avoided using pronouns altogether.

When the school found out, administrators told Vlaming to either use male pronouns or risk losing his job.

The suit also states that Vlaming was accused of using female pronouns when discussing the student to other people and during one incident in class, Vlaming referred to the student as "her." Vlaming acknowledged the incident saying that it was unintentional and he addressed it with the student after class, according to the lawsuit.

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The suit states that on multiple occasions, Vlaming explained his religious beliefs to administrators but was still told that by refusing to use male pronouns, he was violating the school board's policy.

"Defendants did not have any written policy regarding using pronouns. ... Defendants made up an uncompromising interpretation of their policies to compel Mr. Vlaming to take sides in an ongoing public debate regarding gender dysphoria and use pronouns that express an objectively untrue ideological message." the suit reads.

Vlaming, who taught at the school since 2012, was fired in December 2018 after the West Point School Board unanimously voted to terminate his contract. The school system said in a statement at the time that he was fired for insubordination.

The suit alleges that school officials and the board violated Vlaming's right to freedom of speech. He is seeking $1 million in damages.

"He wasn't fired for something he said," the lawsuit reads. "He was fired for what he didn't say."

West Point High School did not return a request for comment. The School Board said it "denies any liability" and intends to "defend against any claims."

Minyvonne Burke

Minyvonne Burke is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.