During a school board meeting on May 25, 2021, an elementary school physical education teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia, opposed a policy that would require teachers to use student’s correct pronouns. Some outlets—and people—may refer to these as “preferred pronouns,” in that they differ from the sex one was assigned at birth. However, they really are just pronouns, and the correct ones, at that. For example, a trans girl asking to use she/her pronouns (or she/they, or they/them, and so on). Just like using the right name for someone, there should be no problem with using the correct pronouns. It’s respectful, validating, and again, simply accurate and correct.
As evidenced in a video, this teacher, Byron “Tanner” Cross, however, said that using the correct pronouns would go against his religious beliefs. He also referenced a recent 60 Minutes segment that focused largely on “detransitioning” (which we covered here at Daily Kos) and said, “I am speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria.” He claimed to love “all” of his students, but said he refused to “lie” to them and “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, and it’s sinning against our God.” Mind you, trans girls are girls and trans boys are boys. No one is lying.
Within several days of the meeting, the Leesburg Elementary School put Tanner on paid administrative leave, as reported by NBC News. It’s unclear if he was put on leave specifically because of comments during the board meeting, but the letter reports in part that he was being investigated over allegations that he “engaged in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations” of the school. A former teacher in the district also spoke out against trans-inclusive policies in terms of sports and pronouns during the same meeting.
“Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, but it’s beyond the pale to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting, which is what such meetings are designed for,” Tyson Langhofer, an attorney from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group who is representing Cross, said in a statement, arguing that the school violated his client’s right to free speech. Langhofer wants the suspension to be rescinded.
The statement suggests that this situation isn’t about pronouns but about “endorsing an ideology.” It suggests the school “favors certain beliefs” and wants to “force” Tanner into endorsing those beliefs. As of Tuesday, the group said its lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the school district.
Here’s the thing, though: Pronouns aren’t just pronouns, that’s true. Using the correct, accurate pronouns relays acceptance, comfort, validation, and base-level respect for people in your life. It should go without saying that this can have a particular impact in a school setting, when students would be quick to pick up on the fact that one (or however many) teachers refused to use the correct pronouns for a peer, which would firstly “out” the student and secondly suggest that other students can use the incorrect pronoun, too. With kids (and in general), the values and behavior we model are always important and almost always have a serious impact.
In the bigger picture, we already know that trans youth are exceptionally isolated and bullied at school on the whole. Trans youth are more likely to be harassed, cyberbullied, and even assaulted than their cisgender peers. They’re more likely to leave high school without receiving a diploma. They’ve even more likely to become unhoused as teenagers.
Then we add in the recent onslaught of anti-trans legislation that seeks to exclude trans girls from participating in girls’ sports, only furthering a sense of loneliness and division. We know that playing sports (and participating in extracurriculars in general) is great for youth when it comes to making friends, gaining skills, and can be useful for applying to colleges. Trying to ban trans kids is hateful, cruel, and yet another unnecessary stressor during a literal pandemic, when we’re all just trying to survive.
You can watch the school board meeting, including Tanner’s comments, below.