A French teacher in Virginia, US, was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns. He had told his superiors that his religion prevented him from using male pronouns for a student who had undergone a sex operation and had informed the school. The school principal had asked the French teacher to apologise and to start using the male pronoun for the student. When the teacher refused, he was fired.
After the teacher was fired, students have protested on both sides of the issue. Supporters of the trans student have affirmed the firing, decrying the discrimination that has been committed against the student. In another walkout, students carried signs that said: “Men are men. Women are women.”. The teacher is now suing the school as he believes that his rights to speak freely and to exercise his religion were violated.
Read the full article on The Guardian: Virginia teacher sues after being fired for refusing to call trans student ‘he’
Was the French teacher’s freedom of expression and freedom of religion violated when he was fired for not using the trans student’s preferred pronoun? In his lawsuit, he is claiming that he sincerely believes that it is a lie to refer “to a female as a male by using an objectively male pronoun”. By firing the teacher, is the school prioritising the student’s preference to use a particular pronoun over the teacher’s freedom of religion and expression? The teacher had attempted to avoid the use of any pronouns at all but he was ultimately told by the school authorities to use the student’s preferred pronouns or that he would lose his job. Should anybody be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job?
Was the teacher discriminating the trans student by not using the student’s preferred pronouns? The school authorities have argued that there has been undue discrimination caused and it has resulted in a hostile learning environment. They have also argued that the teacher had been insubordinate and had refused to obey the orders from the authorities.
To discriminate has two definitions: to make a distinction and to make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things. By not using the student’s preferred pronoun, the French teacher has make a distinction against the student. However, whether or not this is a case of unjust discrimination is a deeper question that lies in one’s understanding of the right of religious freedom versus whether one’s gender is given or chosen.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- What makes discrimination just or unjust? What forms of discrimination are legitimate?
- Do you agree with the school’s decision to fire the French teacher? Could the school have reached a different decision that would have satisfied both parties?
- ‘insubordinate’: disobedient to authority
- ‘defuse’ vs. ‘diffuse’: Nb. ‘Diffused’ was used incorrectly in the Guardian article when ‘defused’ was intended.
- ‘defuse’: reduce the danger or tension in a difficult situation
- ‘diffuse’: to spread over a large area