Metro Weekly

Loudoun County settles with teacher who was suspended for refusing to use trans students’ pronouns

Tanner Cross and two other plaintiffs will continue to challenge the legality of the district's transgender-affirming policies.

Tanner Cross – Photo: Loudoun County Public Schools.

The Loudoun County School Board has settled part of a lawsuit with a gym teacher who was suspended after refusing to use transgender students’ correct names and pronouns.

Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, sued the school for violations of his right to freedom of religion and right to free speech after he was placed on leave and barred from school grounds for refusing to comply the school board’s gender-affirming policy.

Cross, who identifies as a Christian, claims it is against his religion to acknowledge transgender identity, and believes that affirming a person’s gender identity that differs from their assigned sex at birth would constitute “lying” to his students.

In June, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman ruled that the school district had unfairly and unconstitutionally retaliated against Cross and must reinstate him to his original position. Although the school board appealed that decision, the Virginia Supreme Court later affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

On Monday, the school board agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting it from retaliating against Cross for expressing his objections to the district’s transgender-affirming policy, known as Policy 8040.

As part of the settlement, the Loudoun County School Board also agreed to remove any reference to Cross’ suspension from his personnel file and pay $20,000 in attorney’s fees. 

Meanwhile, the rest of Cross’s lawsuit has been amended to call for full repeal of Policy 8040, which requires teachers and administrators to recognize the gender identities of transgender and gender-nonconforming children with respect to their school records, their preferred names, their pronouns, their participation in school activities, and their ability to access gender-affirming restrooms.

Additionally, the policy requires 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.

Those changes have been instituted as a way of complying with a law, passed in 2020, that directs school systems to adopt policies on how best to deal with issues facing transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

In August, the circuit court allowed Alliance Defending Freedom — a conservative legal group that opposes any expansion of LGBTQ rights on the grounds that such protections violate people’s religious freedom — which is representing Cross, to amend its complaint and add two additional plaintiffs to Cross’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the policy.

Related: Loudoun County School Board passes LGBTQ-inclusive equal opportunity policy

In that part of the lawsuit, which will continue regardless of Loudoun’s settling the claim over Cross’s suspension, Cross, Loudoun County High School history teacher Monica Gill, and Smart’s Mill Middle School English teacher Kim Wright argue that Policy 8040 infringes on their rights by compelling teachers to express or endorse messages with which they personally disagree and believe are harmful to students’ collective well being, including the idea that one’s gender can vary from one’s assigned sex at birth.

“Teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, and they certainly shouldn’t be silenced from commenting at public meetings,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, the director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a press release. “While we are very pleased that Tanner will be able to keep serving his students in light of this settlement, the concerns expressed in our ongoing lawsuit challenging the district’s policy remain.

“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. That’s why our lawsuit asks the court to protect the constitutional rights of our clients by immediately halting enforcement of this harmful school district policy.”

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