An Indiana teacher has claimed that calling transgender students by their chosen name goes against his religious beliefs.
John Kluge, a former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said that the school district forced him to resign when he would not adhere to the policy of calling students by their chosen name, rather than their birth name.
“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” he said to Indystar. “I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing.”
The school’s policy states that a student may only have their name changed in their records if consented to by a parent and doctor. Once that approval is given, their name is changed throughout the school’s files and teachers must call students by that name.
While he said he does “care” for his students, Kluge is uncomfortable using their changed name because it implies agreement with the student’s gender identity. He had been using students’ last names to avoid the policy, but was told by the district that he must use first names from now on.
“I don’t want to be compelled to speak in such a way that I believe I’ll be encouraging them in something that’s dangerous,” Kluge said.
Many advocates of the LGBTQ community said that using a student’s preferred name is not an issue of religion, including Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, who said that using it was “a request for respect.”
A representative of the district said that Kluge submitted his resignation before the school year finished. Kluge, who has been with the school for four years, said that he was threatened with being fired and submitted a tentative resignation letter that he did not want to be accepted until May 29th. He asked to withdraw his letter on May 25th.
Kluge said that his letter caused him to get kicked out of the email system and a job posting to be instated looking for his replacement.
“They’re acting as if I have (resigned), even though I’m pleading, ‘no,'” he said. “I’m not dead yet. I still want to work here.”
Conservative nonprofit The Indiana Family Institute has started a letter campaign urging supporters to write to the board members of Brownsburg schools, asking for Kluge’s job to be given back to him. “It appears that the real intolerance at Brownsburg High School lies in the hands of the administration against teachers who hold a sincere faith and a sacrificial love for their students,” the form letter reads.
Kluge plans to appeal to the school board at their next meeting on June 11th, saying that he is not ready to leave his job.
Transgender student rights are still highly contested within educational environments. The Trump administration revoked Obama-era guidelines that gave protections to trans students who wished to use the bathroom, locker rooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.
The U.S. Department of Education has also said it won’t pursue any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity.