GRESHAM, Ore. — A female elementary school teacher who says she neither identifies as male nor female has been awarded $60,000 in a settlement with her school district after she lodged a complaint that her co-workers continued to refer to her as a woman and wouldn’t call her “they.”
The 25-year-old teacher at Hall Elementary School, who now goes by the name Leo Soell, had told her friends in 2013 that she did not feel that she identified as either male or female. However, she did not reveal her feelings to her employers with the Gresham-Barlow School District, who continued to refer to her by her female name and pronoun.
In November of the following year, Soell was diagnosed with breast cancer. After obtaining a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to make her chest look more masculine, Soell approached the district to advise that she had changed her name to Leo as she identified as “genderqueer” or “transmasculine,” and desired to be referred to as “they.”
According to reports, the district told teachers not to refer to Soell as “they” in front of students due to concerns about age appropriateness. It instead instructed to reply if students asked if Soell was a man or woman, “We all have private lives, and it would not be appropriate to talk about our private lives during the school day.”
In Soell’s complaint, she alleged that teachers continued to refer to her as “she” or “Miss Soell,” and some called her a lady. So she and a teacher’s union field a grievance and the district hired a transgender advocacy group to provide training for teachers.
But Soell says that some teachers continued to refuse to call her “they” in front of parents and children, and one “berated” a child who corrected a teacher for using the pronoun “she.” She also claims that teachers suddenly began using the gender-neutral restroom, which made her wait longer to be able to use the lavatory.
The district launched an investigation into Soell’s complaint, but did not find any evidence of harassment.
Therefore, Soell hired an attorney, who informed the district of their intent to file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. The district then suggested a settlement.
According to The Oregonian, the agreement includes a $60,000 payment to Soell for emotional distress and attorneys fees. Officials also agreed to make gender neutral restrooms available at all schools within the district. Hall Elementary School now has only gender neutral restrooms, and teachers are required to call Soell “they” under the possibility of discipline or dismissal.
“So people can basically force us—on pain of massive legal liability—to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie,” attorney Eugene Volokh recently wrote for the Washington Post in decrying a newly-established transgender law in New York City.
“We have to call people ‘him’ and ‘her’ even if we believe that people’s genders are determined by their biological sex and not by their self-perceptions—perceptions that, by the way, can rapidly change, for those who are ‘gender-fluid’—and that using terms tied to self-perception is basically a lie,” he said.