WEST POINT, Va. — A high school teacher in Virginia was fired on Thursday for declining to use masculine pronouns for a female student who identifies as a boy. The termination, despite the launch of a petition in support of the teacher and a large turnout at a public hearing, resulted in a student walkout in protest the following day.
Peter Vlaming, who teaches French at West Point High School, had reportedly told administrators that he could not refer to the girl as a boy due to his Christian convictions. He sought to not use any pronouns at all so as not to pose an issue, but did call the student by her new name.
A petition launched in support of Vlaming states that the teacher, who knew the student from recent years when she still presented herself as a girl, inadvertently referred to the student with a feminine pronoun twice this school year, resulting in a complaint being lodged with the principal.
“Mr. Vlaming was asked to sign a paper stating he wouldn’t refer to the student as a female,” the petition states. “He stated he couldn’t promise that he wouldn’t ‘slip up’ again because for the previous two school years the student identified as a female, still looks like a female and he’s not used to the student as a male.”
Vlaming was specifically asked to refer to the student by her preferred pronouns, but he said he could not do so.
On Oct. 31, Vlaming was placed on paid leave, and West Point Public Schools Superintendent Laura Abel recommended that the teacher of seven years be terminated for insubordination with directives in light of the school board’s policies on discrimination.
“As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming’s non-compliance, I therefore recommended termination,” Abel said in a statement.
On Thursday, a public hearing was held surrounding the matter, which was filled to capacity and overflowing. Vlaming told those gathered that he felt he was being forced to go along with a worldview with which he disagrees and is against his religion.
“My religious faith dictates that I am to love and respect everyone, whether I agree with them or not, because we are all made in God’s image,” he said, according to local television station WRIC.
“I am also aware of, and agree, with speech limits that are placed on public school teachers, concerning matters of religious faith,” Vlaming also stated. “I represent the state in my role as a public school teacher and therefore speak with a certain authority. That authority is not to be used to promote any one specific worldview, and I don’t. However, we are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed upon me.”
He said that he sought to work out the matter in a way that was based on “mutual tolerance,” but it was not accepted, and his job rather hung in the balance because he held to views adhered to by “most of the world for most of human history.”
“That is not tolerance,” Vlaming declared, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That is coercion.”
However, the board voted unanimously to terminate Vlaming, and later released a statement outlining that Vlaming “willfully violated school board policy” by steadfastly declining to refer to the girl with masculine pronouns.
“West Point Public Schools has the responsibility to ensure all students have a safe and supportive school environment where they can learn and thrive. We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family,” it said.
“Mr. Vlaming was asked repeatedly, over several weeks and by multiple administrators, to address a student by the pronouns with which this student identifies. The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue. Mr. Vlaming consistently refused to comply going forward—including in a statement made at the hearing—a willful violation of school board policy,” the board stated.
On Friday, a number of students participated in a walkout, during which they held signs and chanted slogans such as “bring him back!”
“I’m just outraged about it,” junior Forrest Rohde told local television station WRIC. “He’s a really nice guy. … He really does care about his students. The thing he will not do is change his ways of thoughts and believing in things just to conform to someone else’s ideologies.”