Activists are compelling teachers to make choices – and take stands
t’s every child’s nightmare. A rough-and-tumble gang of mean-spirited kids, roaming the corridors and playgrounds, dodging teachers and administrators, singling you out for bullying and some highly personalized terrorism.
Sometimes, nightmares come true. Monica Gill knows. One day, in a lower-middle-class middle school in Rockville, Maryland, the gang came for her.
“I don’t know why they picked me as a target,” she says, “but it was a pretty brutal experience.” For months, she remembers, “they would hunt me down in the halls, run over me — literally, run over me — knock me down, knock all of my books down, then laugh and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you.’” With the physical attacks came the taunting and teasing, name-calling and threats.
The assaults climaxed one day when the whole group surrounded Monica at her locker. They were inducting a new member into the gang and, as the rest closed in around her, the newbie grabbed Monica’s hair and slammed her head hard against a locker. They left her there, sobbing.
A teacher came along; he demanded to know what had happened. She was afraid to tell him, but, “I was just a mess,” she says. Next day, in the school lunchroom, he summoned her over to where he was standing. “I want you to point every single one of those kids out to me,” he said.
Terrified, Monica begged him not to make her do that. He wouldn’t relent, though. “Point the finger at every kid,” he said. “We can’t let this go on. You have to tell me exactly who this is.”
It was like a bad-dream version of “show and tell,” and “the most frightening experience of my life,” Monica remembers. But she finally looked around and began pointing. One by one, the teacher called those she identified up to the front of the room to face him. “And they never bothered me again,” she says.
Of course, even all these years later, groups still team up to mistreat children. Only, more often, it’s the grown-ups doing the mistreating. And Monica, now a teacher herself, is one of those determined to call them out for what they’re doing.
actually knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was very young,” Monica says. “I used to play school with my brothers — actually make them do work and I’d grade it. Which, I think, is why they were not too fond of school.”
Early on, it was pretty clear that Monica herself preferred worlds outside the classroom. She was just 4 when her parents started her in kindergarten, and Monica remembers her earliest teachers being “exasperated, and probably rightly so. I was very much in la-la land … more interested in fairy tales than in anything [they were] trying to impart to me.”
Still, “I loved all my teachers … even when they didn’t love me that much,” she laughs. Once the fascination with teaching took hold, she grew to appreciate not only the skills required for the job, but the warmth and affection that her best instructors brought to their classrooms.
“They clearly loved and respected their students, and wanted the best for them, and were not just up at the board, teaching lessons. They knew what was going on in our lives. They connected with us, took special interest. Those were fond relationships — not just ‘I’m here to impart knowledge and pour it into your head, and then move you on to the next level.’
“It had a huge influence,” Monica says, “not only on my desire to teach, but on the kind of teacher I wanted to be.
“The Lord was a huge influence on that, too,” she adds. “I know He placed it on my heart when I started teaching that my No. 1 priority was for my students to know that they are loved — unconditionally — by at least one person in their life. And that needed to be me.
“Whatever I was teaching them, content-wise, was important … but not as important as them knowing they had a teacher who loved them.”
“My No. 1 priority was for my students to know that they are loved — unconditionally — by at least one person in their life. And that needed to be me.”
The door to Monica’s classroom invites her students to a lively, welcoming learning environment. On the way out of class, Monica’s students are reminded of a lesson that’s a vital part of her teaching: that they are unconditionally loved.
And so, Monica, who teaches history and government classes at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, Virginia, greets her students each morning with a reminder that she loves them. She bids them farewell at day’s end the same way. In between, she works the assurance easily into casual conversations and lesson discussions, and signs off all their graded papers and quizzes with, “Mrs. Gill loves you.”
A stenciled message hangs over her classroom door: “You are loved.” The stencil was a gift from another teacher — one who doesn’t share Monica’s faith, but recognizes the genuineness of her love for both God and her students. In time, most of her students come to understand that, too.
Near the end of each school year, Monica gets to wondering if she’s shown her students what she’s told them. She closes the last big quiz with a bonus question: “Why does Mrs. Gill tell you that she loves you?” She’s gotten some interesting answers.
“To be funny.” “Because it’s cute.” “Because she wants us to do well.” “Because we’re the coolest kids ever.” All kinds of things like that,” Monica says. “And then I have several who say, ‘Because she really does love us.’”
Sometimes, Monica worries that her constant refrains of love may have run their course … grown stale or silly. Then she remembers another answer, from a boy who wrote, “Mrs. Gill tells me that she loves me to make up for my parents’ lack of love.”
And she starts showing and telling them all over again.
onica teaches two classes of “academic level” U.S. history, designed to prepare students for college-level coursework. Trouble is, “a third of my kids in these classes cannot read above a fourth-grade level. Cannot.” Monica chalks that up to a number of things — mostly, perhaps, to a culture that’s increasingly more interested in coddling children than challenging them.
“We are so involved in this culture of feelings. We don’t want kids to have low self-esteem; we don’t want them to be hurt by being held back. And we’re paying the price for that mentality right now. I see kids who are suffering academically, and from mental health issues. That’s hard, because you’re trying to deal with both — and I don’t think we’re dealing with either effectively.
“I have so many more students now than I did 20 years ago who suffer from mental health issues: gender dysphoria, depression, anxiety, stress — even being hospitalized for those things. It’s heartbreaking. And it seems like the adults around these kids are not always helping them make the best decisions in navigating these issues.”
Monica has come to believe that her school district, like many others, “has been making decisions that seem far more ideological than really about what is best for kids.
“It’s been a slow crawl,” she says, describing some of those dubious decisions. Directing teachers not to grade homework, for instance, “because some kids don’t have any support at home. It’s not ‘fair.’ Not ‘equitable.’” But, of course, homework that won’t be graded is homework that won’t be done — so there’s no point in assigning it, Monica’s learned.
Other policies followed: “‘We’re not going to penalize students’ grades for being tardy, or being absent, or skipping class,’ they tell us. ‘We’re not going to take points off if they don’t put their name on their papers. These are behaviors, and we shouldn’t be grading behavior.’” More and more indulgences inspired less and less discipline, Monica says, and the challenge of learning fell by the way.
Then came the pressures to embrace critical race theory and, later, Policy 8040 — requiring all teachers, whatever their beliefs about biological sex and gender, to use the pronouns that transgender and “gender-expansive” students specify, regardless of their true biological sex.
“Which means,” Monica says, “that any kid, at any time, can make a gender claim, and I, as the teacher, have to accept that claim. If they are a boy, and say, ‘I was “Charlie,” but today, I’m “Cindy,” and I want you to use she / her pronouns for me,’ we are mandated that we have to participate in that. We have to use those pronouns. We have to accept and affirm that this boy is now a girl, or vice versa.”
That, Monica found, was the line she couldn’t cross.
“I’m a government teacher. I know that it is always wrong for government to mandate speech.”
Radio commentator Todd Starnes interviews Ryan Bangert, ADF Senior Counsel; and Monica Gill on the Todd Starnes Show.
here are so many issues with that policy in particular that, as a teacher and as a Christian, were just untenable,” she says. “We’re supposed to be loving, respecting … protecting and not harming.” And yet, “we’re compelled to say things we don’t agree with, that we don’t believe — things that aren’t true — to our kids.”
Monica was far from the only one feeling the frustration. At a Loudoun County School Board meeting last spring, another teacher — Leesburg Elementary physical education teacher Tanner Cross — became an instant lightning rod for the gathering storm of controversy when, speaking in his personal capacity, he eloquently expressed the concerns of a growing number of parents and teachers in the district:
“It is not my intention to hurt anyone,” he said. “But there are certain truths that we must face … We condemn [these] policies [because they] damage children, defile the holy image of God. I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them ... 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 is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child. And it’s sinning against our God.”
Monica was sitting in the audience, awaiting her own turn to speak. She had talked with Tanner at other meetings in recent weeks, and knew she had found a kindred spirit. Kim Wright, an English teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School and the wife of a pastor at Monica’s church, decided she had, too. Both were stunned, two days later, when district officials placed Tanner on administrative leave while they investigated his alleged “disruptive impact.”
If the move was intended to intimidate Tanner — and other teachers, like Monica and Kim, who agreed with him — it quickly backfired. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit on Tanner’s behalf against the district, and the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Tanner’s constitutional rights had likely been violated. He was permanently restored to his teaching position.
When they learned that ADF would be amending Tanner’s lawsuit to directly challenge Policy 8040, both Kim and Monica asked to join him as plaintiffs in the case.
“Tanner and Kim and I all believe that lying to a kid is harming them,” Monica says. “It’s ultimately harmful to say, ‘Okay, yeah, you really are a girl now,’ or to use pronouns that don’t align with their biological sex.
“Words matter,” she says. “Words carry meaning. If I am forced to use a pronoun for a student that does not align with their biological sex, I am essentially conveying to that student that gender is fluid — and that’s not true. As a teacher who cares for her students — as a Christian who believes firmly that all human beings are created in the image of God as either male or female — I can’t participate in that.
“I’m a government teacher. I know that it is always wrong for government to mandate speech. Micromanaging people’s pronouns, this is not the job of government.”
“I just am so thankful to the Lord and for ADF, to have this group of people come around me and provide all of the expertise and resources and support I needed to take on this Goliath.”
From left to right: Kim Wright, Monica Gill, and Tanner Cross
er decision to join the lawsuit wasn’t made lightly. Two years ago, when CRT began to dominate teacher training programs, she asked to meet with her principal, who suggested Monica take her concerns directly to district officials. Monica wrote a letter to her superintendent and to those leading the district’s “equity initiative.” None of them replied.
So, she began attending — and speaking out at — school board and equity committee meetings. But officials weren’t listening, she says. “They did not seem to care at all about the concerns of teachers or parents. We were just talking to the air.”
Some people, though, took notice. A writer for The Federalist heard Monica speak at one of the increasingly volatile school board meetings. She invited Monica to write an opinion piece for the online magazine. Monica wrote two. Word spread fast. This time, her principal called her.
“You gave me a lot to think about,” she said. She also told Monica that, the day after the article was published, she had gone to the district’s HR office in person, to tell officials there, “they had better not try and do anything to you. I’m here,” she told Monica, “to protect you.”
“And she has,” Monica says, at least as far as her out-of-school writing is concerned. But Policy 8040 is another matter, and that puts Monica under threat of punishment right now.
Still, when a lawyer she spoke with connected her with an ADF attorney, she was relieved to find strong legal support. That’s when she learned ADF was also representing Tanner in challenging the district’s Policy 8040. She decided to join the lawsuit.
“I just am so thankful to the Lord and for ADF, to have this group of people come around me and provide all of the expertise and resources and support I needed to take on this Goliath,” Monica says.
“You just feel like, ‘I'm not getting anywhere, not going anywhere, not going to make it. This isn't going to make a difference.’ And then, finally, you get someone on your side who says, ‘We've got you. We've got everything you need to take this fight to the next level and really make a stand for what's right.’ That makes a huge difference.”
“I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them ... I’m a teacher, but I serve God first.”
Leesburg Elementary physical education teacher Tanner Cross
huge difference is exactly what’s needed, says Logan Spena, legal counsel with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, and one of the attorneys representing Monica and her colleagues. Too many people, he says, underestimate the full breadth of what’s happening in places like Loudoun County.
“This is the government adopting an orthodoxy about the relationship between sex, gender, and human identity,” he says, “and forcing teachers to affirm that it’s true. These administrators are willingly adhering to this idea, not just that a person can be a man or a woman, regardless of their biological sex … but that human identity is not related to those categories at all. That you can identify as anything.” School officials are calling that idea “gender expansiveness.”
“This is not “just a ‘live and let live’ kind of controversy,” Spena says. “This is school districts adopting an ideological account of what human beings are — and forcing their employees to go along with it. These officials are demanding that we accept and adhere to radical and harmful ideologies.”
For those not willing to do that, he says, now is the time to speak up. Many are persuaded that these schools’ transgender agendas are unstoppable, propelled by near-universal assent. “And that’s not the case,” Spena says. “In fact, most people don’t accept these ideas. The only reason there’s so much pressure to adhere is that so few people are willing to talk about it.
“In order to protect the lives of countless children,” he says, “it’s time for people who really don’t agree with this to talk about it.” That’s what makes Monica, Kim, and Tanner so remarkable, he says — not the rarity of their views, “but that they have the courage to stand.”
“School districts [are] adopting an ideological account of what human beings are — and forcing their employees to go along with it.”
—Logan Spena, ADF Legal Counsel
Monica Gill with ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena
his whole experience really has been a huge growth point and shift in my faith,” Monica says. “Prior to this … I wouldn't have considered myself a particularly courageous person.” But now?
“I'm really not afraid of anything anymore. I believe that the Lord has me. He is sovereign. He's placed each one of us in the times that He's placed us for a purpose. And, ‘if God is with us, who can be against us?’”
She reflects often on the late summer day, a few years ago, when that courage came to her. She was cleaning the dusty classroom she’d just inherited from a retiring fellow teacher. Feeling low, she remembers, and overwhelmed by all that she was seeing in the school system, and the dark impact it was having on the students she loved. She was looking for a way to leave.
“And I was praying … saying, “Lord, I can't do this anymore. It's just too hard.” Cleaning off a bookshelf, she found an old book stuffed back in the corner. “I picked it up, dusted it off, and looked at the cover. It said, Holy Bible.
“I thought, ‘My goodness, what are you doing here?’ And then I opened it. On the inside cover was written, ‘Presented to Loudoun County High School from the Senior Class of 1955.’”
“My cynicism kicked in, and I thought, ‘We'll never see anything like this again. This is terrible. Look at how far we've fallen.’ Then the Lord, just in that moment, got hold of my heart.
“‘I did not give you this gift for you to judge this place,’ He told me. ‘I gave you this gift so that you would know I have not abandoned this place. I have put you here for such a time as this. There are other Christians whom I have placed here for this time. I have not abandoned you. I have not abandoned public schools. I have not abandoned these children. You’re here to be my salt and light. So … stay.’”
“And so — I've stayed. I have not been anxious since. He just removed all my fear.”
Which is what allows a teacher who’s always telling her students she loves them … to step forward, and show them that it’s true.
WATCH a video about Monica’s case
The Bible presented to Loudoun County High School by its 1955 senior class