An Ohio public school punished a sixth-grader after he used the wrong pronoun for a transgender student and told friends that the student “is a boy, not a girl,” according to the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel.
The school has since agreed to stop punishing students in similar circumstances, Liberty Counsel says.
At issue is a biological boy who identifies as a girl, according to a letter Liberty Counsel wrote to the school district. Names were redacted.
The incident occurred in art class on May 13, when a group of girls who had “enthusiastically” affirmed the transgender student’s identity began discussing the issue.
“The girls began talking about” the transgender student “taking girl hormones” and “eventually having his ‘male private parts removed,’ and that this would ‘make him a girl,’” according to the letter.
That’s when the sixth-grade student (“John Doe”) who was punished spoke up, saying, “No, he is a boy, and not a girl.” Another male student (Boy B) agreed, saying, “Yes, you are what you’re born with.”
John was not mocking the transgender student but was stating “what he truly believes” after “being subjected to the conversations of the girls all semester,” the letter said.
The art teacher overheard a portion of the conversation and reported the boys to the assistant principal, who allegedly told John, “you can have your own beliefs” but the transgender student “wants to be called a girl.” John was pulled out of PE class on May 14 and forced to sit in the principal’s office.
“[He] felt shame and embarrassment at being pulled out of gym class in front of his friends,” the letter said. “Based on his conversation with [the assistant principal, he] understands that he must refer to” the transgender student “as a girl and with female pronouns, going forward, or that he will be punished.”
The other boys received worse punishments, apparently because the assistant principal believed they were bullying and not being sincere.
Liberty Counsel said John has the right to state his beliefs.
“The First Amendment protects a student’s right to hold his own views,” the letter said, “and to respectfully share them, where the issues of transgenderism, cross-sex hormones, and ‘having male private parts removed’ are raised by others in conversation during school time where students may talk, and are otherwise permissible subjects of discussion. This is especially true where the student shares his views in response to conversations to which he is repeatedly subjected by others against his will.
“Moreover, the government may not take one side in a cultural or scientific debate, and turn classrooms into enclaves of totalitarianism,” the letter said. “... Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
The school district responded to Liberty Counsel, saying John did not receive “formal disciplinary action” and that the “Board of Education does not discipline students for expressing respectful disagreement on any topic.” The school further said the “Board of Education does not discipline students for using certain pronouns in referring to students or coerce any student to use a particular pronoun” and that “no student would be required to use” false pronouns.
The parents were pleased with the outcome, Liberty Counsel said.
“Students may respectfully share their views without being punished,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said. “School administrators were wrong to punish students for expressing their views on something patently obvious. Schools cannot force students to lie about objective reality.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Machine Headz, this is a stock photo.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.