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Nonbinary Teacher in Florida Fired for Using Mx. Title

Florida Non-Binary Teacher Fired HB 1557
Image: Sean Drakes/Getty Images

The virtual school says its hands are tied due to Florida's "don't say gay" law. However, the teacher has lodged a complaint against it.

A Florida teacher lost their job for asking to use a gender-neutral courtesy title. Now, the nonbinary teacher has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that could challenge an expansion of the state’s controversial “ don’t say gay ” law.

Physics teacher AV Vary told Florida radio station WMNF that Florida Virtual School fired them for encouraging students to use the title Mx. instead of another courtesy title. While Vary’s principal did not object to the term immediately, he later said that was not okay.

“I was told that professor was not okay, Dr. was not okay for me because I didn’t have a Ph.D., but there are lots of people at FLVS who do use Dr., which, coincidentally, is also in violation of the same law I got disciplined for,” Vary said. They were told the other acceptable courtesy titles were Mrs., Ms., or Miss. Using "teacher" was also out of the question.

Unable to reach an agreement on a proper title or pronoun usage, Vary said they were ultimately fired. That ended Vary’s 15-year teaching career, at least for the moment. Vary came out as nonbinary in the last year.

The virtual school has pointed to an expansion of Florida’s “don’t say gay” law passed last year. State statute now forbids the use of preferred pronouns in schools.

At the start of the school year, that prompted large districts like the Orange County Schools in the Orlando area to ban they/them pronouns or even nicknames. The rule applies to staff and to students.

Now Vary has filed an EEOC complaint and could potentially challenge state law.

Florida virtual students study primarily online and engage teachers remotely. But officials told media the law ties their hands on the issue.

“As a Florida public school, FLVS is obligated to follow Florida laws and regulations pertaining to public education,” said Laura Neff-Henderson in an email.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, said Vary’s firing from the school was an example of why opponents of the law were concerned.

“The fact that being your authentic self is basically illegal in Florida and leads to your termination, it sets a really unsettling precedent,” Eskamani told the Orlando Sentinel . “In an environment where we have a teacher shortage, it’s pretty ridiculous to terminate teachers over something like this.”

Vary told the paper that their husband’s income provides the financial independence to hire an attorney and likely challenge the state’s law in court.

“I feel very strongly in standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” Vary said.

They said that the issue of gender identity wasn't even a discussion topic for their students.

“I didn’t ever say, ‘Hey I’m nonbinary’,” Vary explained. “We had physics to do.”

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