October 31, 2018, was a fateful day for Virginia high school French teacher and Christian educator Peter Vlaming. A student participating in a classroom activity wearing a virtual reality headset could not see where she was going. Vlaming shouted, “Don’t let her hit the wall.”
Those six innocent words effectively ended Vlaming’s teaching career at West Point High School.
How? Prior to this, the student announced she was transgender and asked to be identified as male. Vlaming was willing to use the student’s preferred name, but citing his Chrisitan faith, he was unwilling to use inaccurate pronouns. He agreed to avoid pronouns altogether in reference to the student.
But that didn’t satisfy school officials. Vlaming explains, “Though I’d been trying hard not to offend this student, it wasn’t enough. When school officials understood that I wasn’t proactively using male pronouns with this female student, they told me that I’d have to immediately make a concerted effort to do so or risk losing my job.” In other words, his job was at risk not because of what he was saying, but because of what he wouldn’t say.
He is not alone in this experience. In the 2019 CEAI member survey, 27% of members who responded indicated that they have been asked to refer to a student suffering from gender confusion with a different name or pronoun. Furthermore, 78% of members who responded indicated that teachers should not be required, as a condition of employment, to affirm LGBTQ identities of students (14% were unsure).
Vlaming continued on his stated course, but avoiding pronouns is a difficult thing to do. His unintentional slip of the tongue on Halloween of 2018 was the last straw and resulted in his termination.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Vlaming in a lawsuit against his school district, arguing that his freedom of speech and religion have been violated. His “conscience and religious practice prevents him from intentionally lying, and he sincerely believes that referring to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun is telling a lie.”
The Legal Landscape
On The State Level
Although specific policies vary, 43% of the U.S. population currently lives under the most extreme transgender laws.These laws in states like California, New York, and twelve others share many of the following characteristics as applied to public schools:
- Teachers are required to use names and pronouns preferred by the student.
- Depending on the age of the student, teachers may not be allowed to disclose a student’s gender expression to his or her parents.
- Students identifying as the opposite sex are allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. Even curtains and privacy screens have been prohibited to avoid stigmatizing students.
- Students can compete on sports teams that differ from their biological sex.
- The privacy of students identifying as the opposite sex is protected to the point that even in the case of overnight field trips, the other students or parents cannot be notified. This could result in, for example, a biological male sharing a hotel room with biological females without their knowledge.
A few states are moving in the opposition direction. Idaho has passed, and eight other states are considering laws protecting girls’ sports from biological male competitors.
On The National Level
In June, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in the Bostock and Harris cases that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected from discrimination in employment. However, the ruling specifically states that it does not apply to policies regarding “bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind.”
Prior to this ruling, the Trump administration found that a high school sports policy in Connecticut violates Title IX and discriminates against girls because it allows biological males identifying as females to compete in girls’ sports. Given these differences, future federal laws or court rulings are needed to clarify the issue.
So how do Christian educators navigate this difficult landscape?
If you are being asked (or required) as a Christian public school educator to accommodate the desires of a student wanting to identify as the opposite sex, take to heart these two encouragements.
First, these students desperately need our compassion. As a group, they suffer from extraordinarily high rates of suicide and depression. Scripture reminds us that our “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12, NIV). Students struggling with their gender identity and those who enable their confusion are not our enemy. They need our courageous, compassionate, and contagious love.
Second, you are not alone. In Daniel 3, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a challenge to their faith with much more than their job on the line, “there was another in the fire” (to borrow lyrics from Hillsong United). Even in their most difficult challenge, God was with them in the most extraordinary way and provided a seemingly impossible way of deliverance.
With love for the student and trust in a powerful God as our reference point, I recommend the following if you are put in this position:
- Pray for the student, the family, your administrators, and others involved before making any decisions. This will help you move from a fear response to a faith response—rather than seeing the situation as something coming against you, realize that the Lord is releasing you, His Spirit-filled ambassador, into the situation to lovingly contend for His purposes.
- Know your state laws and district policies regarding gender identity. Unless the courts rule favorably in the Vlaming case or another that may arise, there is currently no general “religious opt-out” for educators being required to implement these policies.
- Seek the Lord earnestly about where your boundaries fall. Some Christian educators come to the conviction that they cannot comply with any request for accommodation inconsistent with biological sex, as they would be enabling gender confusion. However, other Christian educators agree to accommodate students to various extents for the sake of meeting them where they are and maintaining relationships, understanding that being lights for Jesus while working in a secular system is difficult to navigate. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, understand that a refusal to implement any part of a state law or district policy carries a high risk of termination.
- Prayerfully look for possible compromises or creative solutions. Many Christian educators have worked out plans with students and administrators like avoiding pronouns, using nicknames or only last names, or providing single-user bathrooms and changing areas. School-wide, some districts are reconfiguring facilities or re-examining procedures to protect the privacy needs of all students.
We can pray for students struggling with gender identity. We can also pray that Christian educators get legal relief from forced compliance with transgender ideology in our public schools. Until that legal relief comes, may He find us faithful to follow Him how He leads.
Vlaming, Peter. “I was fired for not using transgender pronouns,” Washington Times, Oct. 15, 2019 (www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/oct/15/i-was-fired-for-not-using-transgender-pronouns)
Peter Vlaming v. West Point School Board (www.adfmedia.org/files/VlamingComplaint.pdf)
National Equality Map, Transgender Law Center, transgenderlawcenter.org/equalitymap
States listed here, plus Arizona. savewomenssports.com/save-womens-sports-blog/f/nine-us-states-are-working-to-save-womens-sports
Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf
Dept. of Education: Connecticut policy abolishing girls-only sports violates Title IX, www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/10816
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