The Virginia Supreme Court upheld on Aug. 30 a lower court decision to reinstate a gym teacher who spoke at a school board meeting against a proposal to require calling transgender students by their preferred pronouns.
On June 6, a county circuit court judge had ordered that teacher Tanner Cross be reinstated after he was suspended over his comments, made during a Loudoun County School Board meeting. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman ruled that Tanner was exercising his First Amendment rights. Plowman directed Loudoun County Public Schools to immediately reinstate Tanner pending a full trial.
A trial in the case is set for next week.
During a school board meeting on May 25, Tanner said he wouldn’t abide by the transgender pronoun rules due to his religious conviction.
“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,” he said.
The school system had argued that Tanner’s comments caused a disruption, but both the circuit court and the state supreme court found that the few complaints fielded by school representatives didn’t cause a disruption worthy of suspending the teacher.
Five parents contacted the principal after the school board meeting, requesting that their children have no interaction with Cross.
Virginia public schools are in the process of revising their rules to conform with a state mandate calling on schools to revise their policies concerning transgender students. The state’s model regulations for schools include a requirement that students be referred to by their preferred pronouns.
Preferred pronouns refer to an individual in terms other than their biological sex. They also include pronouns such as “ze, “zir,” and “zirself” to refer to people who are “gender-nonconforming, genderfluid, gender-neutral, or genderqueer,” according to MyPronouns.org.
Stacy Haney, a lawyer representing the school system, said the state law gives the school board no leeway on implementing the policy and that existing school board regulations already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, which Haney said includes referring to transgender children by their preferred pronoun. As a result, Haney said, Cross was articulating a defiance to follow existing school policies.
Since Cross filed his lawsuit in May, two additional teachers in Loudoun County have joined him as plaintiffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.