Indiana teacher who refused to use transgender students' names said he was pushed to resign

Washington Post

The Indiana teacher who says he was coerced to resign after clashing against the school district's policy that required he call transgender students by their preferred names has had his resignation approved, according to local news reports.

Teacher John Kluge, who taught orchestra at Brownsburg High School outside of Indianapolis, had taken to calling students by their last names to sidestep the issue, according to WTHR. Self-identified as a Christian, Kluge said that it was against his religious convictions to "encourage" transgender identity, and also a matter of his First Amendment rights.

Kluge, 28, said he had only submitted a letter of resignation at the end of May because district officials had threatened to fire him after telling him he had to start calling students by their first names, WTHR and the Indy Star reported.

"I'm being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said, according to the newspaper. "I'm fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Kluge had asked to withdraw his resignation letter on May 25, but his resignation was already in process by then, the Star reported.

On Monday night, school officials told an emotional crowd at a school board meeting that Kluge's resignation had been approved, according to Fox 59. Kluge spoke at the meeting as well, saying that he believed he should be able to appeal his resignation.

"I wanted to be able to teach my subject matter with a clean conscience," he said at the podium. "You've approved my resignation without me being able to appeal my resignation."

Dozens of other people spoke at the meeting, with many holding signs in the crowd that said "Trans rights are human rights," and "My pronouns aren't optional." Others held signs like "Justice for John."

Some spoke in support of Kluge, saying that did not believe in the school's transgender naming policy, or saying they were concerned about "reverse bullying," and what they believed was the free-speech restrictions his resignation represented, according to Matthew McClellan, a reporter with ABC affiliate WRTV.

Jeff Gracie says he's disappointed in the school board's decision to terminate Kluge, and that parents were left out of the process when transgender naming policy was enacted.

McClellan also reported that one woman, Laura Sucec, said her son had such a negative experience with Kluge that he dropped out of the orchestra.

"By refusing to call my child by his name because of his beliefs," she said, Kluge "is saying that he knows better what is right for my child than I do."

Her son Aidyn, a sophomore, who has been interviewed previously by reporters, said that LGBT students believed that Kluge's decision to call all students by their last name was a way to deny them respect and personhood.

"I think that Mr. Kluge's religious beliefs have absolutely no place in a public high school," he said. "I think that everybody advocating in support for Kluge needs to think about what it is like to be a transgender person and what it is like to live your life knowing that there are people who would say that you are not an actual human being and actively disrespect you."

He added:

"The process of coming out as transgender within this school system is fair and it is extensive enough that nobody would try to pretend to be transgender to further some sort of personal agenda," he said. "That's not something that happens. I think nobody wants to feel what it feels like to be a transgender person. It is not something that is easy, it is not something that is pleasant. It is something that is taxing and drains energy from you."

Transgender students say that being called by names and pronouns that match their gender identity is critical for their transition and well being, as is having student records that reflect their gender identity. Their advocates also argue that it is required under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

The Obama administration, which found schools in violation of Title IX when they failed to adhere to this, directed public schools in 2016 to call transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns. The administration also directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the directive in early 2017.

Kluge has maintained that the district's policy is a violation of his rights.

"I feel the compelled speech of forcing a teacher to take a side on this very highly controversial topic is a violation of our First Amendment rights," he told WRTV recently.

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