A Virginia elementary school teacher is suing the Loudoun County School Board after he was suspended following comments he made against a proposed new policy that would expand rights for transgender students.

Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in Leesburg, Va., said during a May 25 public meeting that recognizing a student's gender identity — if different from their sex assigned at birth — goes against his religious beliefs.

"I love all of my students but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences," Cross said.

"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," said Cross, who says he is Christian. "It's lying to a child. It's abuse to a child. And it's sinning against our God."

Two days after the public meeting, Lucia Villa Sebastian, Loudoun County Public Schools interim assistant superintendent for human resources and talent development, informed Cross in a letter that he was being put on administrative leave with pay as the district investigated allegations of "conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School."

Cross' lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Virginia Circuit Court for Loudon County, claims that the school district retaliated against him for his comments during the public meeting and that his suspension constituted a violation of his rights to freedom of speech and religion.

Wayde Byard, the Loudoun County Public Schools public information officer, confirmed that Cross had been put on leave but said state and federal law prohibits the district from disclosing the reason for his suspension.

At the public meeting, Cross rose in opposition to draft policy 8040, a proposal that would allow transgender and gender-expansive students to use names and pronouns outside their legal names and "regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student's permanent educational record."

School staff would be required to use names outside students' legal names if the student or their parent or guardian requested it.

The proposal would also amend an existing school district policy by allowing students to participate in activities such as sports "in a manner consistent with the student's gender identity."

Several states including Idaho, Florida and Tennessee have recently enacted laws restricting the ability of transgender athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth.

Byard, the Loudoun County Public Schools public information officer, said the proposal would align district policy with the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Education's guidelines for the treatment of transgender students.

During his comments at the public meeting, Cross said he was expressing concern for students with gender dysphoria and cited a recent report on the CBS News broadcast 60 Minutes that featured some transgender children who decided to reverse the transitioning process.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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