Before he was fired for refusing to use male pronouns for a transgender student, Virginia teacher Peter Vlaming defended his convictions.
“We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me,” Vlaming said during a West Point Public School Board meeting to decide his fate, WTVR6 reported. “Even higher than my family ranks my faith.”
The school board voted 5-0 Thursday to fire Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School, after he agreed to use a male transgender student’s new name — but tried to avoid using any pronouns when referring to the ninth-grade student, ABC News reported.
It was a contentious meeting, as community members packed the high school’s chorus room, with some carrying signs that read, “Justice for Vlaming,” The Virginia Gazette reported.
Forrest Rohde, a junior at the high school, said it’s not fair to punish Vlaming because of his beliefs, WRIC reported.
“I’m just outraged about it,” Rohde told WRIC. “He’s a really nice guy, he wanted to do everything about his students. He really does care about his students.
“The thing he will not do is change his ways of thoughts and believing in things just to conform to someone else’s ideologies.”
So far, almost 2,000 people have signed on to an online petition titled “Don’t terminate Mr. Vlaming.”
It quotes the teacher as saying: “I won’t use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns. Administration is requiring that I use masculine pronouns in any and every context at school. I was informed that any further instances of using female pronouns would be grounds for termination.”
Vlaming also taught the unidentified student last year, but the ninth-grader came out as a transgender male over the summer, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel told the newspaper the student “felt disrespected” because Vlaming said he would avoid using any pronouns instead of “he,” “him” and “his.”
Jonathan Hochman, principal of the school, said Vlaming once remarked that he “missed the female version of the student,” ABC reported.
Described as a “slip-up,” Vlaming accidentally referred to the transgender student as “her” during a class activity, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The ninth-grader appeared to be heading for a wall while he wore virtual reality goggles, witnesses said, and Vlaming yelled out for someone to stop “her.”
Abel said she recommended firing Vlaming because he was “discriminating and creating a hostile environment” by refusing to use male pronouns, despite school officials asking him to do so multiple times, according to WTVR. Hochman recalled during the school board meeting that Vlaming once said it’s a “lie” for a person to change their pronouns.
In a statement to WRIC, a family friend of the transgender student said “this is a hard time for the teacher and the student.”
“The family is a strong one,” the statement said, “and the child is being supported in paving the way for other trans children that may come after him.”
But Vlaming doesn’t agree with the firing. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “I am being punished for what I haven’t said.” During the school board meeting, he said he wouldn’t use the student’s pronouns if the school board voted to not fire him, according to the Virginia Gazette.
“That is not tolerance,” Vlaming said, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That is coercion.”
Now, the teacher is considering filing a lawsuit, arguing that his First Amendment rights have been violated, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He told WTVR that “there are some hills that are worth dying on.”