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A high school teacher in West Point, Virginia, has been fired for refusing to call a transgender student by his preferred pronouns, citing his religious beliefs.
“I’m happy to use the new name, I’m happy to avoid the pronouns that offend. I am not happy to use male pronouns for a female,” said Peter Vlaming, who was suspended by the West Point Public School Board last week.
Suzanne Aunspach, the assistant principal at West Point High School, said she was notified of the student’s move to transition from female to male in August, and that she then met with individual teachers to explain and discuss the transition.
Principal Jonathan Hochman said Vlaming refused to use male pronouns, in violation of school policy. “I like the student and miss the female version of the student,” Vlaming reportedly told Hochman.
Vlaming, who taught French, refused to back down at a public school board hearing on Thursday, saying, “We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me. Even higher than my family ranks my faith.”
After reading from a prepared statement, BuzzFeed reports, Vlaming was asked by a school board member whether, if permitted to continue teaching at West Point High School, he would follow school policy and call the student by his preferred pronouns.
“And so you will refuse to use male pronouns to refer to the student in question, is that correct?” the school board member asked.
“Correct,” Vlaming replied.
Vlaming said he is pursuing his legal options, calling his firing “absurd” and arguing that he was fired for something he did not say. However, BuzzFeed cited an Oct. 31 incident in which Vlaming called the student by the wrong pronouns. Upon seeing the student about to run into a wall, BuzzFeed reports, Vlaming told other students, “Don’t let her run into the wall.” Vlaming said the incident was a “slip-up,” and that he was acting out of instinct. He reported the incident to the principal and was placed on administrative leave the next day.
A Facebook live stream of the hearing shows several commenters supporting Vlaming, calling for him to be reinstated. About 100 middle and high school students staged a walkout Friday in support of Vlaming.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.