Free speech or misgendering?

What happens when rights conflict?

KODAK Digital Still Camera
© Dave DuBay. Flagstaff, AZ

A Virginia teacher has been fired because he chose to refer to a transgender student by the student’s preferred name while avoiding any gender pronouns. The school said Peter Vlaming must use pronouns.

While most media outlets reported the story as the teacher’s refusal to use pronouns, The Hill called it “misgendering.” But there’s no evidence that Vlaming has used feminine pronouns or the student’s “deadname” after the student came out as a transgender boy.

While Vlaming cites religious freedom, free speech is also at issue. Public schools are government run institutions and are bound by the first amendment.

It’s clear that government employees, or those employed by government funded agencies, can be prohibited from saying certain things. Harassment and verbal abuse are two examples. But whether someone can be forced to say something against their will—compelled speech—or be fired is an issue the courts must decide.

I’ve been critical of psychologist Jordan Peterson, who rose to fame alleging that Canada’s transgender rights law would result in compelled speech. And while I stand by my disdain for his absurd comparison of transgender activism to communism’s 100 million deaths in the twentieth century, social justice activists are proving Peterson’s concerns about compelled speech correct.

An essential point classical liberals make about advocacy for your equal rights is the reciprocal responsibility to respect other people’s equal rights. Vlaming’s choice to use the transgender student’s preferred name while avoiding both female and male pronouns is a reasonable compromise. But coercing people to using pronouns they don’t agree with—or lose their jobs—is an unreasonable violation of their human rights.

In other words, the equal rights of both parties are respected when we draw the line by saying that employees cannot use pronouns against a person’s request, but that person cannot force you to use pronouns that you don’t want to use.


Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at He's also at

2 thoughts on “Free speech or misgendering?”

  1. Regarding transgender pronouns:
    I know it takes some getting used to, so, it might help if it’s known that we humane beings are all the first X of XX & XY. There are male Xs and feminine Xs and androgynous Xs.
    When has there ever been equal rights between a masculine Y ego and a feminine X ego?
    Compelled speech is what we’re taught from a child, isn’t it? along with manners and empathy.
    Sibyl X


    1. PS. There’s no excuse for anybody, never mind teachers, to be ignorant of a gender’s Mind identity crisis some Brave children & grownups are going through, all because of hereditary diploid genes.
      The first Documentary I watched about Gender Reassignments that I thought might be harrowing, but it wasn’t.
      How wonderful everybody involved was, and the fact that it works is Magic, isn’t it Humanity?
      As we saw, as far as Loving Parents go, a perfect fit goes with the flow’ From their roots Beloved Children grow, finding ways to cross Cruel Boundries, GOD Wails, and Roars, and Crows, HEAVEN Knows, at Last . . .
      Sibyl X


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