Byron “Tanner” Cross, the Leesburg Elementary School PE teacher who was put on administrative leave after speaking against the School Board’s model policy for transgender students, filed a lawsuit today seeking to be reinstated to his position.
Cross was placed on paid administrative leave on May 27, two days after he cited religious grounds for his objections to model policy 8040, which gained widespread attention.
The policy mandates “LCPS staff shall allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence.”
Virginia state law requires all schools to adopt similar policies by the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Cross is a devout Christian and said that he would not affirm a child who identifies as transgender.
“I couldn’t do that because that would be in violation of my faith. To me that would be lying to a child and maybe even harmful to a child,” he said.
Cross is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative nonprofit known for defending Christian values.
His attorney, Tyson Langhofer, argues the school division is violating Cross’ quintessential First Amendment rights.
ADF has long supported efforts to suppress the gender equality movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified ADF as a hate group. Langhofer contends that this lawsuit is entirely about free speech, not the rights of trans people. Still, members of the trans community in Loudoun County were disturbed by Cross’ statements.
School division representatives pointed to the complaints lodged by parents as triggering the suspension.
Cross was placed on administrative leave by interim Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Talent Development Lucia Villa Sebastian, pending an “investigations of allegations that you engaged in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.”
According to an email included as an exhibit in the lawsuit, Stacy Haney, of the Haney Phinyowattanachip law firm representing the school division, wrote to Langhofer that, “the day following Mr. Cross’s comments to the School Board, there was significant disruption at Leesburg Elementary School, including multiple complaints and parents requesting that Mr. Cross have no contact with their children because of his comments.”
Cris Candice Tuck, a transgender parent of two Leesburg Elementary students, said her children were hurt by Cross’ opinions.
“He loves Mr. Cross, and his first reaction was, ‘what if I had a kid in my class who was trans, how would he treat them?’” Tuck said. “If a child has a firmly held belief, for an adult to tell them they are wrong, that’s wrong that’s harming a child.”
Cross said the school division’s Human Resources officers indicated they wanted to resolve the issue quickly, but he hasn’t heard from anyone from his employer since last week.
His hope is to return to his job and move forward.
“I would treat all of my students with dignity and respect. Sometimes we have different definitions of what respect is,” Cross said.
Tuck said members of the trans community are hoping that Cross won’t be fired, and that the incident will open a dialogue about transgender rights.
“Every other student gets to define themselves through a nickname, using a trans child’s name or pronoun is not different. If your faith doesn’t allow you to do that then perhaps public school isn’t the place for you,” Tuck said.
Tuck also praised the school division for its handling of the matter and for the drafting of policy 8040.
The school division did not provide comment, as is its policy for ongoing legal matters.