When it comes to transgender rights, the U.S. still has a long way to go, but acceptance and visibility for trans people are slowly increasing—including in schools. In May, a Virginia court ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a trans teen who sued his former school district for failing to let him use the boys’ bathroom. And now, in another highly publicized story from Virginia, a teacher has been fired after he declined to use a trans student’s preferred pronouns.
BuzzFeed News reports that Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School in West Point, Virginia, failed to use male pronouns to address a ninth-grade trans boy in his class. At a hearing on December 6th, the West Point School Board unanimously voted to remove Vlaming from his post. During the hearing, Vlaming reportedly said, “a specific worldview is being imposed on me” and cited his Christian faith as his reason for not referring to the student as “him.” The French teacher, who worked at the school for seven years, testified that he tried to avoid using any pronouns to refer to the student. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, administrators present at the hearing told Vlaming that he shouldn’t treat trans students differently from cis students.
And while the teacher claimed he attempted to avoid using pronouns altogether when referring to the student, he was on record referring to him by female pronouns on at least one occasion. In an October 31st incident, he accidentally told other students “don’t let her run into the wall” during a class activity. Apparently West Point Principal Jonathan Hochman testified that Vlaming had reported the incident to him at the time, but still refused to use proper pronouns for the student. He said that Vlaming told him, “I like and miss the female version of the student.” Vlaming was put on administrative leave that afternoon.
According to BuzzFeed, in the hearing Vlaming said that he would not use male pronouns for the student if he returned to the classroom.
Calling a trans person by the correct pronouns is not a matter of “tolerance”; it’s an issue of basic human decency and acknowledging that trans identities are valid. We’re glad to see the West Point School Board taking action, and we hope other schools districts follow suit if faced with similar situations.