Virginia teacher says he was suspended after objecting to 'preferred pronoun' policy

Transgender Andrii Zastrozhnov/Shutterstock

A Virginia teacher sued his school district this week, claiming he was unlawfully suspended for opposing the district’s proposed “preferred pronoun” policies.

The law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against Loudoun County Public Schools on Tuesday on behalf of Tanner Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary School. Cross said he was suspended from his position after objecting to two proposed school policies during the public comment period of a May 25 school board meeting. 

The proposed policies would require that students identifying as transgender be addressed by their preferred gender pronouns, rather than by the pronouns corresponding with their biological sex. 

Tyson Langhofer, Senior Counsel for ADF and director of its Center for Academic Freedom, said in a statement on Tuesday that public schools “have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, nor do they have the right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting.” 

“The school district favors a certain set of beliefs on a hotly contested issue, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well,” Langhofer said. “That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”

ADF obtained a May 27 letter from the school district stating that Cross was placed on administrative leave with pay “pending an investigation of allegations that [he] engaged in conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.” The letter was dated two days after Cross made his objection at the public meeting.

Cross could not access school district property, nor could he attend “school-sponsored activities or extracurricular events,” the district said. 

In the lawsuit, ADF said that the district engaged in “viewpoint-based retaliation” in suspending Cross. 

Cross “endeavors to treat every person with dignity, love, and care,” but has “sincerely held religious beliefs” about gender that would make addressing students by chosen pronouns tantamount to lying, and would therefore “violate biblical commands,” the lawsuit stated. At the school board meeting, Cross spoke “in his personal capacity,” the lawsuit stated. 

A spokesperson for Loudoun County Public Schools confirmed to the Associated Press that Cross is on paid leave but declined to comment further on the matter.

ADF attorneys wrote to the school district last Friday, arguing that the district illegally retaliated against Tanner for expressing his beliefs in a public forum, and requesting that Tanner be reinstated. The school district stood by its decision, according to ADF, prompting the lawsuit.

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