Christian Teacher Won’t Use Transgender Name, Sues School and Lost

John Kluge, a former orchestra teacher in Brownsburg Community School from 2014 to 2018, sued the school over the transgender name policy. According to Kluge, he was “forced to resign,” citing the steep differences in the school’s policy and his religious beliefs. The Brownsburg Board of School Trustees accepted Kluge’s resignation on June 11, 2018. In the following year, he decided to sue the school.

In 2019, Kluge filed a lawsuit against Brownsburg Community School Corporation, arguing that the school infringed on his First Amendment rights. Judge Magnus-Stinson, a district judge of Indiana, rejected Kluge’s argument, explaining that he was, at that time, a government employee who was instructed to carry out his job. The judge added that Kluge was not told by the government what to do as a private citizen.

In the same ruling, Judge Magnus-Stinson allowed Kluge’s claim against religious discrimination by the Brownsburg Community School to be put on trial. Two years after, in July 2021, Judge Magnus-Stinson dismissed Kluge’s lawsuit grounded on religious discrimination. The judge stated that Brownsburg Community School “has an obligation to meet the needs of all of its students, not just a majority of students or the students that were unaware of or unbothered by Mr. Kluge’s practice of using last names only.

In early 2017, the Brownsburg Community School faculty began discussing how to help their transgender students better and how the school can support them. In the same year, the school district adopted a policy that requires all school staff, including the faculty, to address the students by their first names. Students are allowed to change their names in the school record into a name that they prefer. The only requirement the school needs is a letter of support from the students’ parents or guardians and a letter from a healthcare professional.

Kluge was asked to address students by their first names, including the new first names adopted by transgender students. Kluge and the other three teachers sent a letter to the school administrator addressed to the school’s principal. In the letter, Kluge and the other teachers expressed their concern over the school policy, stating that to “encourage students in transgenderism” is a sin. 

Kluge and the school administration discussed and implemented a compromise. He would be allowed to address students by their last name and may refrain from using pronouns to refer to students.

The compromise did not last long and proved to be ineffective. Kluge has had a hard time calling students on the last name basis. There were also incidents when Kluge calls cis students by their first name. Transgender students started complaining; one student claimed that Kluge’s behavior made him feel alienated, upset, and dehumanized. It made me dread going to orchestra class each day.”

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