A Virginia gym teacher has sued his school district after he was placed on administrative leave and put under investigation for speaking out against a rule requiring him to address students by their chosen gender pronouns.
Lawyers for Byron ‘Tanner’ Cross, a gym teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, filed suit against the Loudoun County School Board and two of the district’s top executives on Tuesday, alleging that he suffered “content and viewpoint-based retaliation” after openly opposing the pronoun rule at a board meeting last month.
According to the lawsuit, Cross was called to meet with his superiors two days after he spoke out and told he was under investigation for “conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations” of the school. The core issue of the case, the suit said, is whether public schools can “punish a teacher for objecting… to a proposed policy” that would force them to“express ideas about human nature” that they believe are false – especially at a board meeting, which are meant to host open dialogue about school policies.
The meeting included discussion of two transgender-related policy changes – allowing students to use the gender identity and pronouns of their choice, and letting them participate in sports activities based on their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. Cross said his comments were based on his sincerely held religious and philosophical beliefs, as well as his expertise and experience as an educator.
“I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them, regardless of the consequences,” Cross said at the meeting. “I’m a teacher, but I serve God first, and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it’s against my religion. It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our god.”
A video of his 45-second speech was widely shared on social media and attracted major media coverage.
The Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative activist group, is representing Cross in the lawsuit. In a letterpublished on the teacher’s behalf last week, the ADF argued that “public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold.”
“The school favors certain beliefs, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said.
Loudoun County is located about 40 miles northwest of Washington, DC. The school district has been embroiled in ideological controversies previously, including public backlash over a decision in March to “downgrade” the use of Dr. Seuss books during its ‘Read Across America Day,’ citing concerns about “racial undertones” in the popular author’s stories.
On Wednesday, one day after the gym teacher’s lawsuit was filed, a group of parents reportedly sued the district in federal court over initiatives that allegedly discriminate against white students based on their race.
The district has also stirred controversy for teaching critical race theory (CRT), a doctrine that posits that racism is deeply ingrained in American laws and institutions. Several states are seeking to ban or limit the teaching of CRT over concerns that it is divisive and encourages students to place undue focus on race. Republican-led legislatures in Idaho, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma have already passed bills restricting CRT in school curriculums.