Commentary 6/19: Call Me by My Name

A bout 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, which doubles a widely used previous estimate of 700,000. The debate on how and when to accommodate the transgender population, now thought to make up 0.6 percent of the population, continues to escalate. Recently in the news is the report of an Indiana […]

A matter of choice

Q: Should teachers be forced to address students by their chosen first name?

By David H. Landon

About 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, which doubles a widely used previous estimate of 700,000. The debate on how and when to accommodate the transgender population, now thought to make up 0.6 percent of the population, continues to escalate.

Recently in the news is the report of an Indiana high school orchestra teacher who claims his former school forced him to resign after he refused to refer to a transgender student by their preferred first name. Brownsburg High School has a policy that mandates teachers call transgender students by their preferred name, in place of their birth name. This teacher believed to do so encourages the transgender lifestyle which ran counter to his religious beliefs.

John Kluge, who taught at the high school for four years, disagreed with the rule on what he asserts are religious grounds. He instead wanted to refer to the student by their last name. As a Christian, Kluge believes that God created mankind and made males and females biologically distinct. He believes it would be going against his Christian convictions to encourage the students in his class in their transgenderism by referring to them by their new self-appointed names. Kluge said he attempted to compromise with administrators and agreed to call all his students by their last names only. Initially, the high school administration agreed with his compromise, but then decided that it was possibly harmful to those students who were transgenders by disregarding their wishes.

A recent Supreme Court case dealt with the issue of how the legal rights of someone with religious objections could be violated. In a narrow ruling, the Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. The Court had to balance the religious rights of the baker against the couple’s right to equal treatment under the law.  In the Indiana school dismissal, the former orchestra teacher argued that his First Amendment rights were violated by requiring him to use the new name as requested by the transgender student. Is the reasoning in these two cases parallel?   

Those who support his dismissal, would argue that these two instances are different. The school has taken the position that using the name a transgender student asks to be called can make a big difference to that students’ mental well-being. It serves as an acknowledgement to their new identity, and it’s a name they picked for themselves. Schools argue that to not use the requested name, can have the opposite effect: a rejection of who a transgender person is saying they are, or an insinuation that they are not really who they say they are. This act, even when it is done by accident, is sometimes called “dead naming” a transgender person. School officials have taken the position that their concern for the mental well-being of the transgender student population is paramount and that whatever discomfort this created for the orchestra teacher was not as important. 

“Dead naming” someone who is transgender is the practice of uttering or publishing the name that a trans person used prior to transition. Cisgender (nontrans) people often refer to this as a trans person’s “real” name, giving the inference that the name a trans person either uses or legally had changed is somehow less real than the one given them at birth. To transgenders, it is a verbally violent offense that attempts to invalidate a person’s authentic gender identity.

Those who support the position of the orchestra teacher argue that there has to be a line drawn somewhere. They believe that the biggest problem with the transgender agenda is that it erodes the right to form our own opinions regarding our perceptions of reality. They argue a man is not a woman merely because he believes he is one.

Q: Should teachers be forced to address students by their chosen first name?

Yay: Hypocrites in the classroom

Let’s keep religion out of it

By Ben Tomkins

I work in schools all the time as a music educator, and even in a liberal state like Colorado I wouldn’t be surprised if a teacher decided to pull the religion card over a transgender student’s identity. However…

…when I realized this dude is an orchestra teacher I almost stroked out. Spoiler alert: the theme of this piece is hypocritical religious douchebaggery, so if you’re all full up on that from what we’ve been doing to families at the border, you might want to get something to bite down on.

I want to start this off with some friendly advice for any of you who are considering going into the music business. If you’re going to make it a condition of employment that you aren’t dealing with the LGBTQ community, don’t bother. Your kids are going to starve if you manage to survive long enough to have them. Get a business degree and open a cake shop where, apparently, you can have your religious cake and eat whatever you don’t sell to fags, too.

As an orchestra teacher, John Kluge spent four years in the arts department of a university, and then his entire career teaching a class that is one of the premier activities for LGBTQ kids. For all this time, his deeply-held religious beliefs seemed to be perfectly reconcilable with his profession. If he thinks that anyone believes that the day little Theresa got a crew cut and said she wanted to be called Nelson he had a sudden spiritual collision, I have some bad news: nobody finds that credible. That would be like Ali showing up to his draft hearing with a three-pack of pork sliders during Ramadan, talking shit about Islam and the white man’s war. It’s not happening.

I don’t know how much Hannity Mr. Kluge has been listening to, but he’s playing silly games that have had distinctly un-silly consequences for his financial wellbeing. I don’t know the last time he checked, but this is America and employment is a business relationship between two willing parties, not a Constitutional suicide pact designed to ensure neo-Nazis have a guaranteed income.

This brings us to the real endgame at which certain kinds of religious communities are aiming, and why it’s so difficult to deal with them. They’re not interested in holding a logical or reasonable viewpoint. They are pursuing a religious and political agenda. That means that making sense is secondary to getting what they want. As an example, the Supreme Court just granted a cake shop the right to refuse service to gay patrons on religious grounds. It follows that the owner of that business has every right to fire an employee who went against policy and sold one anyway. It’s your shop, and it’s your right to run it however you want. One would think that someone who understands that would be wholly unsurprised by a teacher who lost their job because they refused to cooperate with district policy on LGBTQ students, which is exactly what the Indiana Family Institute—a right-wing religious organization—said, right?

Of course they didn’t.

Here is what they published:

“Orchestra teacher John Kluge cares about the health and well-being of his students. He is troubled by the research showing that individuals who adopt a gender different than their biological sex and who transition, through hormone therapy and surgery, are 20 times more likely to commit suicide. As an authority figure within the school and the community of Brownsburg, Mr. Kluge could not, in good conscience, encourage his students down a path that could lead to tragic consequences.”

Who the hell was talking about that? I’m not asking the Indiana Family Institute—I expect anything they say to be blindly on the religious side of things—I’m asking John Kluge, who originally said this was about his spiritual relationship with God, not secular statistical analysis of modern social issues.

That’s how you know this isn’t about religion, or scientific studies, or children or whatever. It’s about a slice of the religious community’s deeply emotional attachment to ideas that are becoming progressively dissonant in the light of reason and time. They get a knot in the pit of their stomachs every time their easy and largely un-considered articles of faith they learned in childhood don’t jive with the reality of adulthood. It may come out as directed at other people, but the real battle is going on in their own heads.

The psychiatrist Robin Skynner nailed the foundation of this kind of thinking when he said “If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.” Memorize that, because once you internalize it, a huge amount of our culture makes sense. Could this guy cope with a trans student? Of course. It is a miniscule and wholly tolerable job requirement. He’s been ramped up on a diet of Fox News and our crazy politics, and now he’s unemployed.

Yay: Do unto others

Don’t let the small thinkers win

By Patrick Bittner

Throughout the history of the United States, time and time again an idea has been claimed as uniquely American or revolutionary to the American idea. We claim the idea of freedom, liberty, and justice to be our own inventions. And while our governing documents may have been the first in the modern world to codify these ideas, they were not exclusive to the American way of thinking. However, what we were truly the first to successfully accomplish in our societal zeitgeist is the thought that someone, be it a government or private individual, cannot tell you what to do, especially when it concerns the practice of religion. In fact, our entire history is predicated on this idea. The first truly successful settlement in the modern United States was founded by Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution.

But with that noble idea came inherent problems, chief among them the unwavering thought that because you are a Christian, you are entitled to spread that belief to others. Unfortunately, the First Amendment does not say this. It instead says that the government will not create a state religion. John Kluge would be called a zealot if he were a member of any other religion. Yet he is being treated as a martyr for the Christian cause when in fact, he is in direct violation of the First Amendment. Mr. Kluge is using his position as a public school employee to spread his religious views to his students and in that he is erroneously flawed.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the idea that religious freedom can be used to discriminate is fresh on the mind of many Americans. And while the parallels between that case and this situation are striking, they are more different than they are the same. While the baker in Colorado was acting in an inherently non-Christian way, he was within his right as a private citizen to use his religion to discriminate. The orchestra teacher is not acting as a private citizen but rather as an extension of the public school system that employs him. As such, Mr. Kluge is claiming that his religious beliefs trump the Constitution and even the very Amendment designed to prevent this type of tyranny. Mr. Kluge is free to discriminate, but not while representing an arm of the public government.

While the details surrounding the separation of Mr. Kluge and the school district are somewhat murky, the justification for it is not. The school decided to make a change to its policy and Mr. Kluge, as an employee bound by that policy, was unable to follow the change. He was given a warning and then subsequently asked to resign. This progression of punishment is no different than in any industry. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the Colorado baker would proceed with similar consequences if an employee of his broke his written policy by, say, baking a cake for a same-sex couple. Mr. Kluge is attempting to use his religious beliefs as justification to be allowed to discriminate in clear violation of school policy, and thus his separation was totally justified.

The final thing to consider is the logic behind Mr. Kluge’s argument. He claims that he is a Christian, and that calling his students by a name of a different gender violates the teachings of Christianity. Thus, he cannot do it because it is wrong. A good way to apply this logic to a secular topic would be to say that I am an American and that using the metric system violates the teachings of the United States and as such, I cannot use the metric system because it is wrong. The difference in these situations is that there is no doubt that the second argument is absurd. The first is just as unacceptable. Period.

Ultimately Mr. Kluge will have to answer to whatever god he believes in when his time comes. But until then, it is the responsibility of the institutions of people in this country to prevent discrimination on any grounds. There is a proud and distinct history of litigation to enforce this claim and even though the recent Supreme Court ruling may seem like a massive victory for religious freedom, that thought was merely a small part of the decision. In reality, it should not take litigation to come to the conclusion that it is wrong to discriminate against someone because it goes against your religious views. In fact, it should not be a stretch of logic to assume that maybe those religious views are wrong. But in a culture that fears it is being attacked from all angles, much like an animal trapped in a corner, logic is hard to come by. The progress of this country cannot and will not be dampened by the smallest thinkers among us. Rising above hate is the only way to combat and eventually eradicate the ridiculous notion that just because someone is different they are less, and bring us together to make us stronger and truly just and honorable.

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David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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