Va. school district reverses suspension of Christian teacher who opposed trans pronoun policy

Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, speaks before a meeting of the Loudon County School Board of Loudon, Virginia, on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, speaks before a meeting of the Loudon County School Board of Loudon, Virginia, on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. | Screengrab: Vimeo/LCPS Board Meetings

A Virginia school district that punished a Christian teacher for expressing his disagreement with a policy to require teachers to use the preferred pronouns of trans-identified students has agreed to lift the teacher’s suspension as part of a settlement.

Byron Tanner Cross sued Loudon County Public Schools after he was suspended in May following a speech at a school board meeting in which he said that he could not in good conscience use the chosen pronouns of his students.

In a settlement reached last week, school officials agreed to remove the suspension from his record in return for Cross dropping the lawsuit against the school board.

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Additionally, the school district agreed to send the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross, $20,000 in attorneys’ fees within 14 days of the settlement being reached.

In a statement, ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said that more litigation was still needed to challenge Loudon County’s gender identity anti-discrimination policy.

“While we are very pleased that Tanner will be able to keep serving his students in light of this settlement, the concerns expressed in our ongoing lawsuit challenging the district’s policy remain,” stated Langhofer.

“Public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job. Freedom—of speech and religious exercise—includes the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs.”

A teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, Cross was put on administrative leave in May after he expressed opposition to a proposed policy that has since passed requires teachers to use the preferred pronouns of students instead of pronouns that reflect their biological sex.

“My name is Tanner Cross, and I am speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria,” said Cross at the meeting. “I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences.”

“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.”

Cross sued the Loudon County School Board, with a judge granting him a temporary injunction against the suspension in June.

“LCPS respectfully disagrees with the Circuit Court’s decision to issue the injunction, and it is appealing this ruling to the Supreme Court of Virginia,” stated the school district in response to the June decision.

“Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt and disappointment about coming to school. Addressing those concerns is paramount to the school division’s goal to provide a safe, welcoming and affirming learning environment for all students.”

In late August, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear the lawsuit and issued an order to keep the injunction against the school board.

As the Cross litigation was ongoing, the school board voted to approve Policy 8040, an anti-discrimination measure that Cross opposed.

According to Policy 8040, school faculty and staff must use the chosen name and pronouns of a student who identifies as “gender-expansive or transgender.”

“School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent/legal guardian, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their consistently asserted gender identity,” read the policy.

“The use of gender-neutral pronouns is appropriate. Inadvertent slips in the use of names or pronouns may occur; however, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy.”

The policy also allows students to use the restroom or locker room “that corresponds to their consistently asserted gender identity,” advising school administrators to consider adding “gender-inclusive or single-user restrooms” for more privacy.

ADF, a legal nonprofit specializing in religious freedom and free speech, represents multiple teachers suing Loudon County over policy 8040, arguing that the measure forces staff to “communicate a message they believe is false.”

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