A teacher in West Point, Virginia, just 40 miles to the east of the state's capital city, was fired by the school district he teaches in this week because he refused to acknowledge the preferred pronouns of a transgender student in his class.
Peter Vlaming, who taught French at West Point High School up until his termination, claimed that his religious beliefs prevented him from acknowledging a student as male.
"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," Vlaming is quoted as saying in his defense, according to reporting from ABC News.
Although a petition of 1,000 signers in the community demonstrated that they didn't want Vlaming to get fired, the superintendent pushed forward his termination -- and the school board agreed, citing Vlaming's clear violation of nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies that he was subject to following. The board also noted that Vlaming was insubordinate to administrators in the school, whom told him to address the student using male pronouns.
"After thoughtful deliberation, the School Board voted to support the superintendent's recommendation" to fire Vlaming, they wrote in a statement. "The School Board has adopted policies and tonight we upheld these policies."The vote from the board was unanimous, with five of the members agreeing Vlaming deserved to be fired, reporting from the Richmond Times-Dispatch demonstrated.
For many, the use of preferred gender pronouns may seem like a trivial concern. However, psychological research and surveys demonstrate that the misuse of gender pronouns — oftentimes shortened to "misgendering" — can have a detrimental effect on a person's self-esteem, especially individuals who are younger and still in a school setting.
According to reporting from Healthline, one such survey found that 32.8 percent of transgender individuals said that they felt very stigmatized when they were misgendered. An anonymous respondent in that survey explained how it felt when they had been misgendered, which happened frequently in their curricular settings.
"When someone misgenders me at school I just get this shock of painful tension throughout my body," that individual said.
It can be perceived to be more than just a faux pas, as misgendering can oftentimes be accompanied by other forms of harassment -- particularly for those who haven't graduated high school yet. 77 percent of K-12 students in that same survey said that they experienced mistreatment of some kind as a result of their being misgendered.