Teacher Objects to Using Trans Students' Chosen Names, Loses Job

Brownsburg teacher says he was fired for refusing to comply with policy on transgender students' preferred names

A teacher in Indiana says he lost his job because he disagreed with his school district’s policy requiring staff to use transgender students’ preferred names.

John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said that enforcing the policy, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. Kluge, 28, said that encouraging the transgender "lifestyle" is at odds with his beliefs as a Christian.

"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said in an interview with The Indianapolis Star. "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, who worked with the district for four years, said the district threatened to fire him just three weeks before the end of the 2017-2018 school year if he did not comply with the policy. He said he handed in a letter of resignation, which he requested to not be submitted until May 29, and on May 25, he asked to withdraw the letter. He said he was locked out of the school email system that day and, through other teachers, he found out the school district posted a job offer for his position.

A district representative said the administration accepted Kluge’s letter of resignation, which he submitted before the end of the school year.

Students can request name changes after they submit written consent from a parent or a doctor, according to a question-answer guide

Their preferred names are in the school’s online record-keeping system, and teachers are then required to call the students by the newly submitted names.

Previously, Kluge called transgender students by their surnames, as per an agreement he reached with the school district. He said this agreement allowed him to remain neutral on the matter, as otherwise complying by this requirement meant endorsing the student’s choice to identify as transgender.

"I really do care for all of my students, which is why I don’t want to be compelled to speak in such a way that I believe I’ll be encouraging them in something that’s dangerous."

The Indiana Family Institute, a right-wing nonprofit, backed Kluge’s decision and has urged people to email members of the Brownsburg school board and ask them to give Kluge his job back.

"Orchestra teacher John Kluge cares about the health and well-being of his students," the campaign’s main page reads in part. "He is troubled by the research showing that individuals who adopt a gender different than their biological sex and who transition, through hormone therapy and surgery, are 20 times more likely to commit suicide. As an authority figure within the school and the community of Brownsburg, Mr. Kluge could not, in good conscience, encourage his students down a path that could lead to tragic consequences."

The research Indiana Family Institute is referring to is "Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden," a 2011 study that reports that transgender individuals who have sought medical transition experience higher rates of suicide.

However, a 2018 study from the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that the use of transgender individuals’ chosen names is linked to lower rates of depression and suicide ideation and behavior. A separate 2015 study from Archives of Sexual Behavior reports that medical transition improved transgender people's mental health.

Kluge said he plans to attend the next school board meeting Monday with the intention of appealing their decision to fire him.

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