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Two teachers from Loudoun County, Virginia have asked a circuit court judge for permission to join a lawsuit brought by one of their colleagues that seeks to block the county’s new transgender-affirming policies in schools from taking effect.
Last week, Monica Gill, a history teacher at Loudoun County High School, and Kim Wright, an English teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School, asked to be added to gym teacher Tanner Cross’s lawsuit against the Loudoun County School Board after it adopted a policy requiring teachers to recognize transgender students’ gender identities, reports D.C.-area radio station WTOP.
Under the policy, approved 7-2 by the school board earlier this month, transgender or gender-expansive students in Loudoun County Public Schools will be allowed to use their preferred name and gender pronouns, participate in extracurricular activities based on their gender identity, and use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
Teachers, administrators, and other school staff are expected to refer to transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns and agree to abide by the policy annually. School mental health professionals are expected to complete training on LGBTQ-related issues, institute anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination policies that protect transgender students, and ensure teachers are aware of any resources available to them on how to deal with LGBTQ-related issues.
The policy was adopted in an effort to comply with legislation passed last year directing all school systems to adopt policies on how best to deal with transgender students by the start of the 2021-2022 school year, just a few weeks away.
The Virginia Department of Education has developed so-called “model policies” regarding how to treat transgender students in a way that acknowledges their gender identity, but has left it up to individual school boards on which specific policies to adopt, saying only that district’s policies but be “consistent” with the spirit of the model policies.
Prior to the policy’s passage in Loudoun County, Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, had spoken out against the recommendations contained in it, citing his religious beliefs. He vowed to refuse to address transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns, insisting that — at least from his perspective — doing so would be “lying” to them. School officials placed Cross on administrative leave, and barred him from campus, claiming his actions were “disruptive” and upset some parents. He later sued for reinstatement.
In June, 20th Circuit Judge James Plowman Jr. ruled that the school district’s decision to suspend Cross was both retaliatory and unconstitutional, violating Cross’s First Amendment rights and attempting to silence others who disagreed with the proposed policy. He ordered that Cross be immediately reinstated while his lawsuit challenging the new policy moves forward. Loudoun County Public Schools has since appealed the judge’s decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
In his lawsuit, Cross, who is being represented by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, has argued that the policy infringes on the rights of those with religious beliefs that gender is binary and fixed at birth. He says that while not every student or teacher has to accept his personal views of transgenderism, he and others who agree with him “should not be compelled to say things that they do not believe to be true.”
Cross’s lawyers have also asked that the policy be blocked from taking effect while their case moves through the court system.
ADF argues that Cross — and, by extension, Gill, Wright, and others with similar beliefs are being compelled to endorse particular messages that they disagree with personally. ADF also maintains that there is no such thing as gender identity, and that sex is determined by a person’s biological makeup at birth.
“Teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, the director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement. “Loudoun County Public Schools is now requiring all teachers and students to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and is compelling them to call students by their chosen pronouns or face punishment. Public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job. Freedom — of speech and religious exercise — includes the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs.”
The debate over transgender students’ rights has rankled conservative parents and community members who have besieged school board meetings in nearly every one of the commonwealth’s counties or independent cities, railing against any policies acknowledging transgender students’ gender identities.
Thus far, a majority of school boards, particularly those in Southwest Virginia or more conservative parts of Hampton Roads, have refused to adopt any transgender-affirming policies, while larger systems in more populous, liberal-leaning areas like Loudoun, Fairfax County, Albemarle County, and Chesterfield County, have adopted policies consistent with VDOE’s model policies.
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