An Ohio middle school teacher is suing her former district, school board and education officials, claiming she was forced to resign after she refused to use students' preferred names and pronouns. The teacher, Vivian Geraghty, said her constitutionally protected religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.
Geraghty taught English at Jackson Memorial Middle School in Massillon, a small city about 50 miles south of Cleveland, from August 2020 until her role at the school ended in August 2022. According to the lawsuit she filed, she refused requests by by two students that she refer to them by "names associated with their new gender identities rather than their legal names. One student also asked to be referenced with pronouns inconsistent with the student's sex."
About a week after the students requested the changes, the school's counselor emailed Geraghty and several other teachers to ask them to do so, the lawsuit says.
But Geraghty refused, saying in the lawsuit that "according to her Christian faith," "rejection of one's biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person," and that going against that belief would be "immoral." She also said in the lawsuit that acceptance of gender identity rather that is different from their biological sex is "harmful to the child because it is untrue."
A few days later, on August 26, she says she met with the school's principal, Kacy Carter, and the district's director of curriculum and instruction, Monica Myers, in hopes of "reaching a solution" that would allow her to continue teaching without violating her beliefs. According to the suit, they told her that she was "required to put her beliefs aside as a public servant," and Geraghty said she could not. That refusal amounted to insubordination, and they allegedly told her that she would have to resign.
That same day, she wrote a letter of resignation to the school superintendent. A copy of that letter obtained by the Canton Repository shows that Geraghty cited "irreconcilable differences" for her departure.
"I was asked to conform to students' gender identities that opposed my religious beliefs. Unequivocally and unapologetically, I will not do so," she says in the letter. "While some may say this is forcing my beliefs on others, I say this is standing up for the mission that every teacher should fight for."
"I understand that it is not my place to force my religious beliefs on others," she continued. "...However, there are lines that I will not cross, as they would violate my conscience and my God."
The lawsuit also points to the fact that the school did not offer her the option to transfer to another classroom or to transfer the students in question out of her class.
The Jackson Local School District said last week that it "always will strive to provide a safe, comfortable environment for all of our nearly 6,000 students in which to learn."
"We have engaged legal counsel and we will have no further comment on pending litigation," the district said in a statement signed by Board of Education president Christopher Goff.
In a letter addressed to the community's parents and staff members, Goff said the board has "no intention of trying this suit in the court of public opinion." However, Goff did say that the school board prioritizes student safety and creating "the best possible learning environment while respecting individual and cultural differences."
Golf also said, without providing specifics on the case, that while Jackson Local School District doesn't have a specific policy about gender identity, it does adhere to federal law. In this case, that law is the Department of Education's Title IX ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Our policy is to provide the best, safest learning environment possible for each student in compliance with the law," he said. "...We ask for your patience since this is an ongoing legal matter, which we will vigorously defend."
Experts and advocates, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, explain that gender identity and sex are two different categories — the former being "one's internal sense of who one is," which may not always be the same. Research suggests that affirming that identity can help support children's mental health.
The Trevor Project released its latest nationwide survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ teens and young adults on December 15, which found that a large percentage of respondents said they seriously considered suicide in the past year, in many cases because of mistreatment due to their identity.
"Research consistently finds that LGBTQ youth who live in accepting communities and feel high social support from family and friends report significantly lower rates of attempting suicide," the report says.
Geraghty filed her lawsuit on Dec. 12 with representation by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy organization that describes itself as "committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God's design for marriage and family."