Imagine you’re at a school board meeting discussing changes to school district policy, and one of the teachers speaks up. He thoughtfully voices some concerns.
How would you react? Even if you disagree, would you appreciate the fact that he is thinking deeply about issues that affect your student? Most people would.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened when Tanner Cross, an elementary school teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, respectfully explained his objections to a proposed school policy during the public comment period of a May 2021 school board meeting.
Who are Tanner Cross, Monica Gill, and Kim Wright?
At the school board meeting, Tanner Cross spoke against a proposed district policy that would compel teachers to deny truths about what it means to be male and female. The policy would require teachers to participate in students’ social “gender transitions” by referring to them using pronouns inconsistent with the students’ biological sex.
Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, shared his belief—and the scientific fact—that there are two biological sexes, which can’t be changed.
Less than 48 hours later, he was suspended. Far from appreciating his input as an educator, school officials punished him for speaking up.
But it is the right of Tanner Cross and every American to speak their opinion at a public meeting. And it’s unconstitutional for the school district to punish a teacher for exercising that right.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against school district officials to hold them accountable for their unconstitutional actions. Thankfully, in June 2021, the Loudoun County Circuit Court held that Cross was likely to prevail in the lawsuit and ordered the school to allow him to return to work while the lawsuit continues.
Unfortunately, the school board failed to heed Cross’s concerns about the proposed policy. On August 11, 2021, the school board enacted it. And now, two additional teachers from Loudoun County Public Schools are joining the lawsuit to challenge this policy.
What is so troublesome about the Loudoun County School Board’s policy?
The policy forces teachers to violate their beliefs by requiring them to address “gender-expansive or transgender students” in a manner inconsistent with their biological sex. And many experts agree that putting children who experience gender dysphoria on a path toward hormones and surgery is harmful to their long-term health and happiness.
As Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote in an expert declaration to the court in a separate ADF case:
Putting a child or adolescent on a pathway towards life as a transgender person puts that individual at risk of a wide range of long-term or even life-long harms, including: sterilization (whether chemical or surgical) and associated regret and sense of loss … physical health risks associated with exposure to elevated levels of cross-sex hormones; surgical complications and life-long after-care; alienation of family relationships; inability to form healthy romantic relationships and attract a desirable mate; elevated mental health risks.
The Loudoun County School Board policy forces teachers to lie to students and embrace an ideology that ultimately could harm them.
The policy even requires teachers to use pronouns inconsistent with biological sex “without any substantiating evidence,” which means before the student even meets the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria or any other condition. The Loudoun County School Board is asking its teachers to send children down a path that poses serious health risks with no questions asked.
You can understand why the teachers don’t feel comfortable with that.
At various school board meetings, Tanner Cross, Monica Gill, and Kim Wright each respectfully explained their concern for students who struggle with gender dysphoria but also their concerns about being forced to violate their beliefs. As Christians, they believe that God created two sexes—male and female—and that this biological reality can’t be changed. They also believe, consistently with scientific evidence, that it would be harmful to their students to convey an ideology that says otherwise.
What's at stake?
A school district cannot use teachers as a mouthpiece to personally affirm a political agenda that violates their beliefs. But that is exactly what the Loudoun County School Board is trying to do.
First, by punishing Tanner Cross when he exercised his constitutional right to speak up against the proposed policy, and now by demanding that all teachers toe the ideological line or face the consequences.
It must stop.
The debate over the school’s policy is about much more than pronouns. It’s about scientific truth. It’s about whether the government can force teachers to endorse an ideology that conflicts with their beliefs.
And Tanner Cross’s case was about something even more important: whether we have the right to voice dissenting opinions to our elected officials at all. Not everyone will agree with these courageous teachers about what the school’s policy should be. But, in a free society, everyone must have the right to make their case to their elected officials about what the policy should be.
- May 2021: Tanner Cross was suspended by Loudoun County Public Schools after speaking out against the proposed policy.
- June 2021: ADF attorneys representing Cross filed a lawsuit against LCPS, asking the Loudoun County Circuit Court to immediately halt the enforcement of his suspension. The court granted the request.
- August 2021: The Virginia Supreme Court issued an order confirming the circuit court’s ruling, agreeing that the school district’s actions were likely unconstitutional. Also, ADF attorneys amended their lawsuit to challenge a new policy the school board had passed that forces faculty and students to speak messages contrary to their beliefs.
- November 2021: The school board agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting it from retaliating against Tanner Cross for expressing his constitutionally protected views on the board’s transgender policy.
The bottom line
Teachers should be free to advocate for the good of their students, and the government cannot force them to endorse an ideology that violates their beliefs.