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Judge orders school to reinstate teacher who refused to address trans students by their proper pronouns

Maggie Baska June 9, 2021
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Byron “Tanner” trans pronouns and names

Gym teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross told a Loudoun County Public Schools board meeting that he opposed a policy to respect trans students' pronouns and names because it is "lying" and "abuse to a child". (YouTube/The Blue Oak Project)

A court has ordered a Virginia school system to reinstate a suspended gym teacher who refused to address trans students by their preferred names and pronouns.

Loudoun County Circuit Court judge James Plowman ruled on Tuesday (8 June) that Byron “Tanner” Cross must be allowed to return to his position until a full trial can be held. He said he granted the temporary injunction because Cross’ rights to free speech and religious liberty are central to the case.

Plowman called the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) system’s disciplinary actions against Cross “unconstitutional” and said the treatment has “silenced others from speaking publicly on the issue”, according to the Washington Post.

The Washington Post reported that the Virginia school system can petition for a review of the judge’s ruling within 15 days, but LCPS declined to comment on the ruling.

LCPS placed Cross, who is a gym teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, on paid administrative leave on 27 May after he spoke out in opposition to the school board’s trans-inclusive policies. One policy requires all LCPS staff to use the “chosen name and gender pronouns” of trans students.

Cross told the school board meeting on 25 May that he would not follow the policies because they oppose his religious beliefs. He claimed that respecting trans children by using their preferred name and pronouns amounted to “lying” and “abuse to a child” and is “sinning against our God”.

The Washington Post reported that Cross filed a lawsuit against LCPS on 1 June – the beginning of Pride Month – alleging the school board’s actions violated his freedom of speech and right to exercise his religion.

His lawsuit was supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a hateful group that has a long history of opposing LGBT+ rights. The conservative Christian legal group is believed to be behind the deluge of anti-trans bills that have been introduced in state legislatures across the US in 2021.

Cross said at a rally on Friday (4 June) that he was “thinking about my values, my students, my parents and my fellow teachers” when he spoke out against the trans-inclusive policies. NBC Washington reported Cross also said he wasn’t “alone” in his beliefs.

“Many of us are concerned that proposed policies would harm students and require us to violate our beliefs by saying things that are not true,” Cross said.

He continued: “LCPS should not require me to violate my conscience and lie to my students.”

However, Cris Candice Tuck, a trans parent in Loudoun, told the Washington Post that he fears the ruling will encourage “hateful rhetoric” in the school and across the country. He said that his kids – who are taking Cross’ class this year – are “really upset” by the ruling and “don’t want to be in PE on Thursday”.

“My kids know I’m transgender, and many of our friends are transgender,” Tuck said. “They know what the effects of things like misgendering and deadnaming can be.”

He told the Washington Post that he planned to write to the Leesburg Elementary School principal to request a “special exemption” to allow his children to skip Cross’ class. If the request is refused, Tuck said he would log the children off of the computer during the class as both kids are attending school virtually.

NBC Washington reported the judge directed Cross, the LCPS board and attorneys on both sides of the case to schedule a trial within weeks. No official date has been given for the trial.

Related topics: pronouns, transphobia, Virginia

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