The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group, has pounced on yet another opportunity to advocate against transgender students in schools. This time, ADF is defending an Indiana orchestra teacher who resigned rather than comply with his school’s policy requiring him to respect the gender identities of his students.
Last year, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) distributed new guidance to its high school and middle school teachers about transgender students. It instructed teachers that for students who have transitioned, their new information will be updated in the school database and teachers are expected to address them by the names and pronouns that are listed. This practice, the district noted, is “based on current case law” — likely referring to a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit respecting a Wisconsin transgender student’s identity.
In response to a question about the legal consequences of not addressing students properly, the guidance warns, “lt is your professional responsibility to follow the expectations and guidelines set forth by the school district. The consequences in this case could depend on if this is the first time and/or the intent in calling the student the wrong name/pronoun.”
John Kluge, who had been the orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, objected on religious grounds to respecting transgender students for who they are.
“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” he told the Indianapolis Star.
Kluge took advantage of a caveat in the guidance allowing teachers to address students by their last name to circumvent any name changes. But the guidance explicitly stated that this exception would only be made for the 2017-18 school year, and that “moving forward it is our expectation the student will be called by the first name listed in PowerSchool [the school’s student database].”
As the end of the school year approached, the district informed Kluge that if he was unwilling to comply with the policy moving forward, his only choices were to resign or be fired. He chose to submit his letter of resignation, but he later attempted to withdraw the letter. It was too late, however, as the school had already begun processing his resignation.
On Monday, he attended a BCSC school board meeting to plead for his reinstatement — and for the right to continue not respecting his students’ identities. “You’ve approved my resignation without me being able to appeal my resignation,” he insisted. “You’ve approved my resignation without me having resigned and without me being able to appeal this to the board. Please be transparent and please reconsider this termination. Please reinstate me with this accommodation for next year.”
The district issued a simple statement acknowledging that it had accepted and approved his resignation.
Kluge wasn’t the only one who spoke. Many parents defended him, while others defended the school’s actions. Sophomore Aidyn Sucec, a transgender student, also spoke about having such a negative experience with Kluge that he dropped out of the orchestra.
“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 told the crowd.
Full comments from Aidyn Sucec: pic.twitter.com/mCy7hRBzKI
— Matthew McClellan (@mcclellantv) June 11, 2018
Kluge is now threatening legal action with ADF at his back. ADF has activated (at least) two of its allied lawyers in Indiana, Roscoe Stovall and Michael Cork, to represent him pro bono. Indeed, he and his lawyers have also been engaged in a national media campaign to paint him as a victim for his unwillingness to follow the policy.
For example, Stovall and Kluge appeared together last week on Washington Watch, the daily radio show of the Family Research Council, another anti-LGBTQ hate group. Stovall described the school’s enforcement of the policy as “discriminatory actions against people of faith” and “hostility against religion” and also claimed that the school is “forcing speech.” ADF had sent a letter to the school explaining why it should not terminate Kluge, but received no response.
The two also appeared last week on The Ingraham Angle, where Kluge claimed he was acting out of concern for the students. Contrary to Aydin’s remarks at the school board meeting, he claimed he’d successfully cultivated friendly relationships with his students, including his transgender students.
In an interview with Fox News’ Todd Starnes, Cork confirmed they may take further steps. “We think that there have been some serious mistakes made and they may give rise to a legal cause of action,” he said. “The resignation scenario was handled in a way that was beyond bullying.”
The media campaign has served as an opportunity for conservatives to peddle anti-transgender junk science. Laura Ingraham, host of The Ingraham Angle, said during her interview with Kluge that most trans kids grow out of it, which is a myth not actually supported by the research. In its campaign on his behalf, the Indiana Family Institute claims Kluge “is troubled by the research” that transgender people are “20 times more likely to commit suicide,” citing a commonly-distorted 2011 study from Sweden that doesn’t actually say that. Cecilia Dhejne, the lead researcher of that study, has repeatedly debunked attempts to appropriate her findings in that way.
What research unequivocally shows is that transgender people’s mental health is best supported by allowing them to transition. And contrary to Kluge’s claim that using a student’s preferred name and pronouns is somehow “compelled speech,” a recent study found that respecting those names and pronouns is vital to decreasing young people’s depression and suicidal thinking.
ADF has proven to be relentless in its fights. It recently represented Jack Phillips, the anti-gay baker at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, but it also has a stable of other clients who are trying to discriminate against LGBTQ people, overturn LGBTQ protections, and resist transgender accommodations in schools. The group rarely settles, which suggests Kluge’s campaign to continue his career is not over.