Teacher Who Criticized ‘Preferred Pronoun’ Policy Reaches Settlement with Virginia School Board

Cross said he could not “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa,” because of his Christian faith.

Byron "Tanner" Cross
Byron "Tanner" Cross (photo: Alliance Defending Freedom / Alliance Defending Freedom)

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — A Virginia teacher who was placed on leave for objecting to a proposed policy requiring transgender-affirming pronouns has agreed to a settlement with the Loudoun County public school board. 

Under the settlement, the school system must reinstate the teacher, remove any reference to his suspension from his personnel file, and pay some attorney’s fees.

Byron “Tanner” Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in the Loudoun County Public School District, spoke at a May 2021 school board meeting in opposition to proposed policies requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred pronouns, rather than the pronouns which align with their biological sex.

Cross said he could not “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa,” because of his Christian faith. Using such pronouns would entail “lying to a child” and “sinning against God,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

After some parents complained about his remarks, the school district placed him on administrative leave with pay on May 27, 2021 for allegedly making a “disruptive impact.” Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, filed a lawsuit on Cross’ behalf, saying that the school district engaged in “viewpoint-based retaliation” in suspending him. 

“Teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, and they certainly shouldn’t be silenced from commenting at public meetings,” Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Nov. 15. 

Cross’s opinions were based upon his “sincerely held religious beliefs” about gender, the lawsuit argued. In June 2021, a county court ruled that Cross must be reinstated while his case continued. In late August, Virginia’s Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that he should not have been suspended.

Under the Nov. 10 settlement, the school board agreed to remove any mention of the suspension in Cross’ personnel file, and to pay $20,000 towards his attorney’s fees.

The school board in August 2021 adopted a policy titled “Rights of Transgender and Gender-expansive Students,” after the Virginia legislature passed a bill in 2020 requiring school boards to protect transgender-identifying students against harassment. 

In addition to mandating that school staff recognize self-declared pronouns, the policy also mandates that students be allowed access to facilities and groups that correspond to their self-declared gender identity. These include facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms, and groups such as sports teams.

Part of the ADF lawsuit is still active. It was amended to include claims against the board’s policy and to include history teacher Monica Gill of Loudoun County High School, and Kim Wright, an English teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School.

Langhofer, the ADF senior counsel, said their legal challenge will continue.

“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. Public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job,” he said. 

“Freedom—of speech and religious exercise—includes the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs. That’s why our lawsuit asks the court to protect the constitutional rights of our clients by immediately halting enforcement of this harmful school district policy.”

The amended complaint argues that the school board policy would wrongly require the teachers “to communicate a message they believe is false—that gender identity, rather than biological reality, fundamentally shapes and defines who we truly are as humans, that our sex can change, and that a woman who identifies as a man really is a man, and vice versa.” 

On Aug. 12, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, which encompasses Loudoun County, released an eight-page diocesan catechesis on the human person and “gender ideology.” Burbidge said Catholics need to show charity for self-identified transgender people without compromising their faith or adopting “simplistic” solutions offered by activists and misleading views of gender.

The Catholic faithful, the document said, should avoid “‘gender-affirming’ terms or pronouns that convey approval of or reinforce the person’s rejection of the truth.”

“To use names and pronouns that contradict the person’s God-given identity is to speak falsely,” Bishop Burbidge said.