A nonbinary teacher in Florida was fired for using the gender-neutral title “Mx.” Now they’ve filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that could challenge the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
According to WMNF, AV Vary recently came out as nonbinary and began using the title Mx. They say they informed the principal at Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a statewide online public school where they taught physics, of the change. “I let him know that I was doing it. And he didn’t say anything at first, and then about a month later he told me he needed me to change it,” Vary said.
On September 15, Vary received a written directive from the school letting them know that Ms., Mrs., or Miss were the only acceptable titles for them to use at work, the Orlando Sentinel reports. In late October, they were fired for refusing to use a title that did not align with their gender identity.
While FLVS spokesperson Laura Neff-Henderson would not comment on the reason for Vary’s termination, she told the Sentinel, “As a Florida public school, FLVS is obligated to follow Florida laws and regulations pertaining to public education.”
Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law an expansion of the state’s infamous Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known to critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. H.B. 1069 includes restrictions on the pronouns and titles both students and public school employees can use.
But Vary notes an inconvenient wrinkle in the law. They told WMNF that they discussed using other gender-neutral titles with FLVS. “I was told that professor was not okay, Dr. was not okay for me because I didn’t have a Ph.D., but there are lots of people at FLVS who do use Dr., which, coincidentally, is also in violation of the same law I got disciplined for,” they said.
H.B. 1069 states that “an employee or contractor of a public K-12 educational institution may not provide to a student his or her preferred personal title or pronouns if such preferred personal title or pronouns do not correspond to his or her sex.” But the law does not address gender-neutral professional titles like Dr., which is used by people of all genders.
Vary has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and hopes to challenge the Florida law. “I can fight this fight. I can be unemployed for a little while,” they told the Sentinel, citing their husband’s income. “I feel very strongly in standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) said that Vary’s situation is exactly the kind of thing opponents of “Don’t Say Gay” feared when the law was passed. She also noted that “it’s pretty ridiculous to terminate teachers over something like this” during the state’s ongoing teacher shortage.
In September, Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar told Fox 13that there were more than 7,000 teacher and support staff vacancies across the state. He said that the Parental Rights in Education and Stop WOKE Acts have contributed to the crisis.