Politics, religion collide in transgender debate at Virginia school

A Northern Virginia religious leader is accused of “libelous and inflammatory” comments by Loudoun County Democrats after weighing in on a controversy involving a teacher’s views on transgender rights.

Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel, a nondenominational church in Leesburg, said during Sunday’s service that he supported recall efforts against six Loudoun County School Board members because they were “abusing our children by perpetuating the lie about gender confusion.”

“They need to be held accountable,” Hamrick said.

Loudoun County Democrats called on Hamrick to recant his comments.

“Unfounded statements such as these not only hurt our community that he is meant to serve, but have dangerous ramifications for the incitement of violence,” the party said.

Hamrick was speaking out in support of Byron Tanner Cross, a congregant of the church and a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School who was placed on administrative leave following public testimony during a May 25 school board meeting.

He said during the meeting that he would not address transgender students by pronouns that reflect their gender identity.

“I love all of my students, but I would never lie to them regardless of the consequences,” Cross said at the meeting. “I’m a teacher, but I serve God first and I will not affirm a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa, because it’s against my religion, it’s lying to a child.”

Cross said he was opposed to a school system policy that says staff members must allow transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns.

Hamrick claimed that Cross being placed on leave was a reflection of “progressive, liberal and Marxist ideology.”

“This is out of control,” Hamrick said.

The situation drew attention in the Virginia governor’s race, with Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin speaking out in support of Cross, asking the school system to reinstate him.

“It’s amazing to me that we see the Loudoun County School Board ignore and absolutely trample on Tanner Cross’ constitutional rights to express not only his religious beliefs, but also his right to free speech,” Youngkin said during an interview on Fox News.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, penned a letter to the school system demanding Cross be reinstated. On Tuesday, the group said its lawyers filed a lawsuit against Loudoun County Public Schools after school officials suspended Cross and responded to the group’s letter “by doubling down on its unconstitutional actions and stating that it intends to stand by its decision to suspend Cross.”

The group alleges that the school board’s actions “violated the Virginia Constitution when it punished Cross by retaliating against him for expressing his beliefs in a public forum, and also violated his free exercise of religion by discriminating against his religious beliefs.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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