Virginia teacher wins right to keep his job after refusing to use students’ preferred pronouns

Virginia’s State Supreme Court upheld the decision to keep a gym teacher employed while he and his school district argue in court whether he can be fired for refusing to use transgender students’ preferred pronouns. 

The court ruled, in a preliminary injunction, that the Loudon County Public School System violated the free speech rights of Byron Tanner Cross, 38, when he was suspended with pay for his comments on gender-inclusive policies at a May 25 school board meeting. 

After his suspension, Cross filed a restraining order and temporary injunction against the board. The Twelfth Circuit Court ordered the district to reinstate Cross’s job on June 8. Then, the district filed for an appeal in the state supreme court. 

Another Supreme Court hearing to settle the dispute between Cross and the district is scheduled for September 7. 

MailOnline could not reach Cross to comment on the most recent decision at press time. 

Byron Tanner Cross, 38, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary (pictured alongside his wife above), cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies in treatment of transgender students.

Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies in treatment of transgender students.

Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies in treatment of transgender students.

Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies in treatment of transgender students.

Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies in treatment of transgender students. 

Cross said he would not use transgender students’ preferred pronouns.

‘I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,’ Cross said at the time. 

He was arguing over two policies put in place by the public school board: one mandating teachers use the pronouns a transgender child identifies with, and one allowing transgender kids to take part in sports with the gender they identify with. The second one also allows kids to use the locker room and bathroom of the gender they identify with. 

 Many parents in the school district agreed with Cross’ convictions, and spoke out against his suspension at subsequent board meetings. 

‘Where is your regard for our freedom of speech?’ asked parent Rachel Pisani, who said she was a mother of three in Loudoun County, at a June meeting.

‘When I saw a teacher express an opinion and suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent… When did it become appropriate to allow the school board – I don’t know who you think you are – but it is not appropriate, it is not allowable to silence, bully, or dismiss our views.’

'I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,' Tanner Cross said at the school board meeting

'I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,' Tanner Cross said at the school board meeting

‘I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,’ Tanner Cross said at the school board meeting

Cross told Vince Coglianese in an interview on 105.9 WMAL that he went back to work the next day and ‘played tee ball’ with his K-5 students before he received a call that evening to talk to the board the next morning. 

‘HR said they want to resolve this as quick as possible but that it’s my feeling at all,’ he said in the interview. 

‘Plaintiff’s faith commands them to tell the truth and not to tell lies,’ wrote Attorney Tyson C. Langhoffer, who is representing Cross and two additional plaintiffs in the State Supreme Court case against the district, in a memorandum dated August 10.  

‘Plaintiff’s understanding of both biology and their fait require them to use pronouns consistent with a person’s biological sex… to Plaintiffs, using pronouns inconsistent to biological sex would be lying.’

‘Plaintiffs believe that God creates each person as male or female… and that adopting a gender identity inconsistent with sex rejects God’s image and design for a person and does harm to that person.’

Loudon Public School’s Public Information Officer Wayde Byard told MailOnline today that the gender policies in question have since been implemented.

They were spurred on, he said, by Virginia State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane, who told local state schools in a July 30 memo that they needed to have ‘a transgender policy on place for the start of the 2021-22 school year.’ 

 ‘Policy 8040 is not a Loudoun County School Board initiative,’ said a press release drafted by the district. 

'Where is your regard for our freedom of speech?' asked parent Rachel Pisani, who said she was a mother of three in Loudoun County, at a June meeting.

'Where is your regard for our freedom of speech?' asked parent Rachel Pisani, who said she was a mother of three in Loudoun County, at a June meeting.

‘Where is your regard for our freedom of speech?’ asked parent Rachel Pisani, who said she was a mother of three in Loudoun County, at a June meeting.

'When I saw a teacher express an opinion and suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent,' said parent Rachel Pisani at a subsequent board meeting. 'When did it become appropriate to allow the school board - I don't know who you think you are - but it is not appropriate, it is not allowable to silence, bully, or dismiss our views.'

'When I saw a teacher express an opinion and suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent,' said parent Rachel Pisani at a subsequent board meeting. 'When did it become appropriate to allow the school board - I don't know who you think you are - but it is not appropriate, it is not allowable to silence, bully, or dismiss our views.'

‘When I saw a teacher express an opinion and suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent,’ said parent Rachel Pisani at a subsequent board meeting. ‘When did it become appropriate to allow the school board – I don’t know who you think you are – but it is not appropriate, it is not allowable to silence, bully, or dismiss our views.’

‘The General Assembly passed House Bill 145 and Senate Bill 161 during its 2020 session mandating local school boards to have policies regarding transgender and gender-expansive students.’

The district, however, would not comment on the ruling, citing the ongoing nature of their court proceedings against Cross.  

In his decision, Twelfth Circuit Judge James E. Plowman suggested that the school district would lose a case against Cross at trial based on the merits of the case, arguing that Cross’ First Amendment rights were impacted adversely.

 Plowman pointed to emails the school district received in regards to Cross, saying they didn’t prove Cross had disrupted the school day and that the few emails paled in comparison to the size of the school.

‘[T]he Court has found … that the disruption relied upon was insufficient,’ Plowman wrote.

‘The Court finds that in balancing all of the factors and weighing the facts presented, the Plaintiff’s interest in expressing his First Amendment speech outweigh the Defendants interest in restricting the the same,’ Plowman wrote.

Five declarations were provided to the court from other school staff, including Monica Gil and Kimberly Wright, according to court documents, who felt they couldn’t speak about the issue after Cross’ suspension for fears of retaliation.

 The judge also said, ‘Upholding constitutional rights serves the public interest’ in making his decision.

Loudoun County Public Schools has not commented on the ruling, but Alliance Defending Freedom – which represented Cross – celebrated the decision.

‘BREAKING: Tanner Cross, a Virginia elementary school teacher and ADF client who was suspended for raising concerns to the board about a proposed gender policy, has won a temporary injunction and the judge has ordered his reinstatement,’ the religious liberty firm tweeted. ‘A massive victory for freedom of speech.’

‘Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,’ ADF President and CEO Michael Farris added to Fox News.

'Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,' ADF President and CEO Michael Farris added to Fox News.

'Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,' ADF President and CEO Michael Farris added to Fox News.

‘Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,’ ADF President and CEO Michael Farris added to Fox News.

‘For that reason, we are pleased at the court’s decision to halt Loudoun County Public Schools’ retaliation against Tanner Cross while his lawsuit continues. Educators are just like everybody else — they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express. Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs.’

After the ruling, Cross appeared on America Reports with his attorney to praise the decision as well.

‘We’re so happy,’ Cross said during the June appearance. ‘There were lots of tears, lots of hugs – we’re just happy we were reinstated and I look forward to going back to serving Leesburg Elementary.’

 He added that he rejected the science that says gender identity can change.

Langhofer also stated after the June 8 ruling that he believes Cross will retain his job beyond the injunction, repeatedly pointing to his right to speek freely as a private citizen at a public school board meeting.

Cross previously doubled down on his position on transgender rights, which he said is not in keeping with his Christian views.

Tanner's wife took to Facebook to thank people for their support. She said he was sorry he didn't get to say goodbye to his students.

Tanner's wife took to Facebook to thank people for their support. She said he was sorry he didn't get to say goodbye to his students.

Tanner’s wife took to Facebook to thank people for their support. She said he was sorry he didn’t get to say goodbye to his students.

He does not believe that every student or teacher in the district should have to accept his view of how best to show compassion to youth struggling with gender dysphoria, but he believes that teachers should not be compelled to say things they do not believe to be true, he said, adding that his faith teaches him using pronouns that don’t correlate to a person’s biological sex would be a ‘lie.’

He argued in his lawsuit that kids he teaches don’t have the wherewithal yet to make a decision as life changing as transitioning, and said the school shouldn’t force a policy that parents might not agree with either.

‘Children do not have a fully developed capacity to understand the long-term consequences of their decisions,’ his lawyer said in the lawsuit.

Cross also said in his court filing that he doesn’t think it’s right for kids to access bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite biological sex.

He said that where possible, the school should create designated facilities for trans kids who feel like they don’t belong in facilities reserved for their biological sex.

In his speech, Cross said: ‘My name is Tanner Cross and I am speaking out of love for those who are suffering from gender dysphoria.

‘”60 Minutes” recently interviewed over 30 young people who transitioned, but they felt led astray because of lack of pushback or how easy it was to make physical changes to their bodies… They are now de-transitioning.

‘It’s not my intention to hurt anyone, but there are certain truths that we must face when ready.

Shortly after the May 25 meeting, Shawn Lacey, principal of Leesburg Elementary, sent an email to parents saying Cross had been put on leave.

Shortly after the May 25 meeting, Shawn Lacey, principal of Leesburg Elementary, sent an email to parents saying Cross had been put on leave.

Shortly after the May 25 meeting, Shawn Lacey, principal of Leesburg Elementary, sent an email to parents saying Cross had been put on leave.

We condemn school policies [that] would damage children, defile the holy image of God.

‘I love all of my students but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences.

‘I’m a teacher but I serve God first and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion.

‘It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God,’ he said. 

Shortly after the meeting, Shawn Lacey, principal of Leesburg Elementary, sent an email to parents saying Cross had been put on leave.

Loudon County, which is home to around 400,000 people, has become a microcosm of issues currently dividing America – critical race theory, transgender rights, gay rights and free speech.

 Parents there have been up in arms recently about school board decisions to promote diversity and, in parents’ view, dampen free speech and do away with tradition.

They said that anytime they speak out about anything, the school board tries to ‘cancel’ them.

Many parents are praising Tanner as a hero and said he was exercising his First Amendment rights.

Others who have seen the video online said he is transphobic, harmful to kids and shouldn’t be allowed to teach.

Tanner’s wife has taken to Facebook to thank people for their support. She said he was sorry he didn’t get to say goodbye to his students.

Ian Prior, spokesman for Unsilenced Majority, an organization set up to reverse cancel culture and defend free speech, told DailyMail.com last Friday: ‘It is shameful what Loudoun County Public Schools did to this teacher for expressing his beliefs to the school board.

‘He was exercising his First Amendment rights of free speech and to petition the government and this action against him is a clear message from Loudoun County Public Schools that it does not welcome different viewpoints and is not inclusive for those that exercise their constitutional rights.’

The two policies being proposed by the school district have not yet been put into place.

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