A Brownsburg, Indiana, teacher claims he was fired over his school district’s transgender policy.
What is the policy?
John Kluge, a former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said the policy requires teachers to address transgender students by their preferred name rather than their birth name. Students can request a name change only after they have written consent from a parent and doctor.
After the requirements are met, the student's name change is entered into the district’s official records. At that point, teachers are required to call students by their transgender name, according to the policy.
Kluge told the Indianapolis Star the policy goes against his religious beliefs and violates his First Amendment rights.
"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he told the 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."
LGBTQ advocates maintain that using a person’s preferred name is about respecting their wishing and not about religion or politics.
"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth.
"This is a request for respect," Brinton told the Star.
A district spokesperson told the Star that Kluge submitted his resignation before the end of the school year and the administration accepted it. Kluge claims he only submitted a tentative letter of resignation but the district made it permanent.
Kluge, 28, was with the district for four years. He told the Star he was locked out of the district's email system a day after submitting the letter. The district also sent out a job posting for a high school orchestra teacher.
"They’re acting as if I have (resigned), even though I’m pleading, 'no,' " he told the Star. "I'm not dead yet. I still want to work here."
What are people saying?
Kluge is receiving support from the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty and opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. The group has started a letter writing campaign and is asking the school board to save Kluge’s job.
"It appears that the real intolerance at Brownsburg High School lies in the hands of the administration against teachers who hold a sincere faith and a sacrificial love for their students," a section of the letter reads.
Kluge said the policy made him feel like he was condoning a student’s decision to become transgender.
"I really do care for all of my students," he said, "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."
Kluge claims the high school gave him permission to call students by their last names, and he did not explain to students why he was doing it.
"I wanted to present an environment where I wasn’t going to push one way or the other," he told the Star.
A few months ago, the district told Kluge he would not be able to use last names only starting with the next school year. He was not given a reason for the change, Kluge told the Star.
"He treats them all the same,” said Jim Bohrer, pastor at Hope Community Church. "He cares deeply. This is not an issue of John excluding anyone. This is purely the administration trying to get rid of John for his convictions."
Bohrer’s daughter was in Kluge’s orchestra class.
Bohrer also said some parents have concerns about transgender students using the bathroom other than the one corresponding to their sex at birth.
"Parents in church have shared concerns about safety issues," Bohrer said.