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A Teacher Fired For Refusing To Use A Transgender Student's Pronouns Is Suing The School

In the lawsuit, the teacher claims using the student's personal pronouns would "violate his conscience."

Posted on October 2, 2019, at 1:37 p.m. ET

Shelby Lum / AP

A high school French teacher who was fired last year for refusing to use a transgender student's personal pronouns is now suing school officials, claiming he was discriminated against for his religious beliefs.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Peter Vlaming said he was fired from his job at West Point High School in Virginia because he would not use the pronouns "he" and "him" when referring to the transgender boy in his class.

Vlaming said using these pronouns, which the unnamed student asked to be used when he began transitioning, would "violate his conscience."

“Vlaming’s conscience and religious practice prevents him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit repeatedly misgenders the student, referring to him with "she"/"her" pronouns.

According to the lawsuit, Vlaming met with the student, his mom, and a guidance counselor at the beginning of the 2018 school year to explain that the student was transitioning.

Vlaming agreed to call the student by his chosen name, but avoided using pronouns at all when referring to the student in class.

But when not in the student's presence, Vlaming was accused of using "she"/"her" pronouns when referring to him. On one occasion in class, the teacher called the student "her," which he claimed was accidental.

The student eventually withdrew from the class due to the repeated misgendering.

In December — after Vlaming refused to comply with the principal's directive to use the student's personal pronouns — the school board voted unanimously to fire Vlaming.

Vlaming is claiming the school board violated his freedom of speech, and he is seeking $1 million in damages. The West Point School Board, the superintendent, principal, and assistant principal are listed as defendants.

A spokesperson for the school, in a statement to BuzzFeed News, said the school "denies any liability to Mr. Vlaming, and we intend to vigorously defend against any claims."

In a statement, one of Vlaming's lawyers said tolerance is a "two-way street."

"He just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience," the lawyer, Caleb Dalton, said. "That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right."

On his lawyers' website, Vlaming said he loves the French language and is "saddened that West Point Public Schools wouldn’t work with me to reach a happy situation for everyone on this matter so that we could all continue on with learning in mutual respect.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.