Despite a Virginia Supreme Court ruling which affirmed the right of teachers not to use transgender pronouns, the Fairfax County Public School Board is set to approve a policy that would punish students for “misgendering” and “deadnaming” their peers.
As Fairfax County Public School Board reviewed its Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) booklet, it listed “slurs based upon the actual or perceived gender identity” of a person as an offense that could result in a suspension. “Slurs” includes “malicious deadnaming or malicious misgendering.” Deadnaming is defined as using a person’s birth name rather than the name they chose when they chose a new gender identity. Also added to the section on discriminatory harassment is “outing related to gender identification and immigration status.”
The board labels such “offenses” as Level 4 offenses. Level 4 offenses allow for a suspension of up to five days, and the principal may refer the student to the superintendent. This could lead to varied responses based on “circumstances and rarely results in an expulsion.”
An FCPS spokesperson said, “Please note that this language is not new. It was introduced to the SR&R last year.” They added, “The language in the SR&R relates to the purposeful and deliberate misgendering of a student aimed at causing harm. Currently, this applies to secondary-level students only.”
Some parents are angry with the board’s proposed rule. Former Fairfax County educator and mother Debra Tisler said the district is “manipulating people” and is implementing a “dangerous” speech code that targets religious students. “What they’re doing is harmful. Any person that goes against the narrative of the school board is going to be [punished]. … I believe that’s why they left [the language] so vague,” she said.
She noted that if the SR&R permits students to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, they shouldn’t be compelled to use preferred pronouns.
Stacy Langton, another Fairfax mother, argued that following a student’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be deemed malicious. She called the policy “speech policing” and punishing students “for reality.” She said that parents will have to file a lawsuit to stop the policy. “It doesn’t really matter what the parents have to say,” Langton said. “We’re all expected to comply.”
She pointed out that determining what is deemed “malicious” is left to the school board members. She argued this could lead to something such as what happened in neighboring Loudoun County, where teacher Tanner Cross was fired for refusing to use preferred pronouns, not out of malice but because of his religious beliefs.
Langton’s point is especially noteworthy considering that the Virginia Supreme Court ordered Loudoun County to reinstate Cross and affirmed his freedom to refuse. The court stated,
“[I]t is settled law that the government may not take adverse employment actions against its employees in reprisal for their exercising their right to speak on matters of public concern… Cross was opposing a policy that might burden his freedoms of expression and religion by requiring him to speak and interact with students in a way that affirms gender transition, a concept he rejects for secular and spiritual reasons.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made a related ruling in the case of Shawnee State University philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether, who also was reprimanded for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns. The court wrote,
“[T]itles and pronouns carry a message. The university recognizes that and wants its professors to use pronouns to communicate a message: People can have a gender identity inconsistent with their sex at birth. But Meriwether does not agree with that message, and he does not want to communicate it to his students.
That’s not a matter of classroom management; that’s a matter of academic speech … Never before have titles and pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are today for their power to validate—or invalidate—someone’s perceived sex or gender identity. Meriwether took a side in that debate. Through his continued refusal to address Doe as a woman, he advanced a viewpoint on gender identity …
Shawnee State allegedly flouted [a] core principle of the First Amendment. Taking the allegations as true, we hold that the university violated Meriwether’s free-speech rights.“
The Supreme Court has ruled that schools cannot compel students to pray or adopt any religious view, yet that is exactly what is going on with this policy. The school is forcing the students to affirm a religious statement they disagree with. More specifically, if courts, including the supreme court of the state in which the Fairfax County Public School Board operates, have already ruled that teachers cannot be compelled to use preferred pronouns, how does the school board think it is acceptable to force students to do so?
This isn’t an isolated incident. In Wisconsin, three middle school boys are being investigated for sexual harassment for misgendering a female student who prefers they/them pronouns. Welcome to America divorced from its Christian heritage. It is only the Judeo-Christian ethic that brings order and sense to society. When we are our own standard of what is good and what is bad, of what is true and what is false, we get results like this. It isn’t malicious to tell someone the truth about gender, it’s loving. As Genesis 5:2, NKJV, reminds us,
“He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.“