Metro Weekly

Virginia teacher fired for refusing to call transgender student by male pronouns

Peter Vlaming claims that acknowledging the student's gender identity violates his religious beliefs

Peter Vlaming – Photo: CBS 6-WTVR.

A Virginia teacher has been fired for insubordination after he refused call a transgender male by his preferred pronouns.

Last Thursday, following a contentious five-hour public hearing, the West Point Public School Board voted unanimously to terminate Peter Vlaming, a french teacher at West Point High School, after he repeatedly refused to acknowledge the student’s gender identity, reports Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR.

Superintendent Laura Abel recommended Vlaming be fired after receiving multiple complaints that he was refusing to follow administrators’ orders, adding that Vlaming’s refusal to refer to the student in question as a male was a form of discrimination and created a hostile environment for that student.

The student, a freshman, has recently transitioned and asked to be called by male pronouns. When Vlaming refused — arguing that doing so was a “lie” — the student filed a complaint.

“[Vlaming told me] I’ve had a slip-up and he went on to describe what happened,” West Point Principal Jonathan Hochman told the board at Thursday’s hearing. “He goes, ‘the student was participating in an activity, almost walked into a wall and yelled out “stop her.”‘”

Vlaming, a self-professed Christian, claimed he tried to compromise by agreeing to refer to the student by his new name, but not by male pronouns, arguing that doing so would violate his personal religious beliefs that gender is fixed at birth.

“We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me,” Vlaming read from a prepared statement. “Even higher than my family ranks my faith.”

Vlaming’s lawyer, Shawn Voyles, argued that his client should not be forced to say something that violates his conscience.

But Stacy Haney, a lawyer representing the school system, said Vlaming made a “conscious decision” to “treat a student who is transgender different than other students. That’s by definition discrimination.”

Following the 5-0 vote to terminate Vlaming, Abel released a statement on behalf of the district.

“The School Board has policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” the statement reads. “As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming’s non-compliance I therefore recommended termination.

“Given the potential for further litigation, we will limit any additional comments to what was presented at the hearing.”

The school board also released its own statement, describing their decision as “difficult” but ultimately backing Abel’s stance. 

“West Point Public Schools has the responsibility to ensure all students have a safe and supportive school environment where they can learn and thrive,” the board’s statement reads. “We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family. 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.

“While we understand that some do not agree with our decision, we hope to have discussions that help West Point Public Schools move forward, maintain our focus on excellence and instruction, and make a positive impact on the lives of our community’s children.”

When asked by WTVR’s Brendan King if defying his superiors’ orders was worth it, Vlaming replied that “there are some hills that are worth dying on.”

Voyles told WTVR that his client has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the board’s decision to the local Circuit Court, and is considering filing a federal lawsuit. 

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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